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RPS president: Theresa May's efficiency call 'drives me mad'

"This isn't about efficiency, this is about cuts," Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president Martin Astbury has said in response to the prime minister’s call for a more “efficient” sector.

Mr Astbury said he wished he had reacted sooner on social media to Theresa May’s explanation of the 12% cut to pharmacy funding across England.

“I’ve heard this one before, about how community pharmacy has to take its share of efficiency cuts. We’ve had cuts [to funding] year-on-year for the last 10 years and we’ve [delivered] those efficiencies,” he told C+D last Friday (February 17).

“This drives me mad.”

Mr Astbury was responding to the letter Ms May sent in support of the Sigma conference in Rio de Janeiro, in which she explained that the government’s “package of [funding] reforms in England are designed to ensure we have a modern and efficient community pharmacy sector”.

"Working at full capacity"

The RPS president – who is listed as a Morrison’s relief pharmacist on the Society’s website – said pharmacists “don’t operate at a sub-optimal efficiency [level]” and are already “working flat-out”.

“Then there’s the introduction of medicines use reviews and all the extra services which are all very important things that we want to do, but they have just added to the workload,” he stressed.

Mr Astbury questioned how much more efficient the sector could get when “we’re already working at full capacity”.

“We know this isn’t about efficiency, this is about cuts,” he said. “It is wrong for [the government] to be cutting something that delivers for the NHS,” he added.

He predicted that with the drop in funding, the pressure to deliver efficiencies would mount on area managers and pharmacy managers first, but the funding cuts “will affect everybody” in the sector, he stressed.

“Pay us for being NHS walk-in centres”

Mr Astbury explained that the RPS “tries not to get involved too much in the contract negotiations” but “contractors should be paid fairly for what they do” and it is an “absolute disgrace” that the government is scrapping the establishment payment, he said.

“If they don’t like the phrase ‘establishment payment’ then I would call it ‘NHS walk-in centre payment,” he added.

“There needs to be a recognition of the enormous magnitude of what is delivered free from community pharmacies. I’m mortified that we still don’t get the proper recognition of what community pharmacists are doing day-in day-out,” he said.

The RPS English pharmacy board will be watching the judicial reviews on the funding cuts – which are due to take place in March – closely, Mr Astbury said.

The board continues to be “strongly against these cuts and we will work with the other [pharmacy] organisations to see how we can ensure that [pharmacists] are properly and fairly remunerated," he added.

What was your reaction to Theresa May's letter?

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