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Lawyer: Don’t assume you’re not eligible for cuts protection

Contractors have the right to ask NHS England to review whether they are eligible for protection from the funding cuts, a legal expert has told C+D.

Noel Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, is urging every pharmacy that dispenses fewer than 9,500 items a month to apply for NHS England’s review – which they can do from tomorrow (November 1) – to determine whether pharmacies are eligible for the “pharmacy access fund”.

A total of 1,356 pharmacies in England – around one in 10 – will receive money as part of the government's scheme, designed to offset the worst of the upcoming cut to funding, the Department of Health (DH) confirmed last month (October 20).

Mr Wardle advised pharmacists "not to assume if you are not on the initial list, that you do not qualify” for the funding.

The eligibility criteria – which includes being a mile or more from another pharmacy – is “not entirely straightforward”, he said, and “there are other possibilities to become part of the scheme”.

From tomorrow, NHS England will be accepting applications from contractors who believe they have “narrowly missed out on the access scheme through the distance criteria, but are in an area of high deprivation”.

Inaccurate calculations

The DH picked the initial businesses to receive the top-up funding based on whether they are more than a mile away from another pharmacy "by road", as long as they are not in the top 25% of pharmacies according to dispensing volume.

However, Mr Wardle said “if [the DH] calculated the mile incorrectly, for example [it] included roads that don’t have public footpaths, or have blockages” preventing patient access, these pharmacies might be eligible for the funding protection.

The DH has already announced that pharmacies located in the top 20% most deprived areas in England, and are located 0.8 miles from another pharmacy, may be considered for funding.

As the access fund is worth “around £11,000 a year” it could “really make a difference”, Mr Wardle stressed.

“It is essentially intended to top up your funds to what it would have been had there been no funding cut,” he said.

The DH said contractors will have three months from the start of the scheme (December 1) to apply for a review, but NHS England will be accepting applications from tomorrow.

The commissioner will aim to complete a review “within six weeks of receiving a request”, the DH added.

Get your application in early

If a pharmacy is eligible for the scheme, its first payment will be included in its December reconciliation payment and will continue on a monthly basis until the payment for March 2018, the DH said.

Mr Wardle advised contractors to submit their application early to help with “immediate cash-flow problems”, but reassured them that “if you’re eligible for the scheme, the payment will be backdated”.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has asked LPCs to review the list of pharmacies deemed eligible for the protection fund, and for pharmacists to report any “errors or omissions” to its regulations officer William Goh.

The application form can be downloaded from here and sent to [email protected].

Will you be requesting a review from NHS England?

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