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Less than 2% of pharmacy’s 2019/20 and 2020/21 SSP funding pots spent on that purpose

The vast majority of the £10 million set aside each year for serious shortage protocol (SSP) fees has been “redistributed” across the pharmacy funding contract since the funding pool was introduced, a C+D investigation can reveal.

Pharmacists were first granted the ability to supply a specified alternative strength or form of a medicine suffering a shortage without contacting the patient’s GP in October 2019, when the government approved the legal framework for serious shortage protocols (SSPs).

As part of the five-year pharmacy funding deal for England published in July 2019, a total of £10m of the overall yearly funding envelope – £2.592 billion – was “set aside as a contingency for paying a fee of £5.35 per item for any necessary supply in accordance with SSPs”, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) outlined.

According to a freedom of information (FOI) request sent by C+D, approximately £25,000 of the allocated £10m was spent on SSP fees in 2019/20.

“Should this contingency not be needed, it will be paid to contractors in the transitional payments from February 2020 to ensure that the full £2.592 billion funding is paid in-year,” the DH said in the first year of the five-year pharmacy funding deal.

The following year saw more SSPs issued and as a result approximately £185,201 (£0.2 million) was spent on SSP fees in 2020/21, the DH added in its FOI response.

The respective £9.975m and £9.8m in “unused SSP funding” for 2019/20 and 2020/21 was redistributed through other channels within the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF), the DH added.

When asked by C+D whether it was still appropriate to allocate £10m in “contingency funding” for SSPs in the pharmacy contract, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said: “We are content for £10m to be allocated to SSPs. This will provide the necessary funds should supply issues occur for any reason, and any unspent funds will be diverted to contractors through the CPCF.”

The results of a C+D survey found that 88% of respondents agreed that a “unified approach” across the UK should be adopted, whereby community pharmacists can make minor amendments to a prescription for medicines that are in short supply, without a protocol.

According to a C+D investigation, the most commonly dispensed SSP in the 18 months preceding April 2021 was fluoxetine 20mg 30 tablets – which was the recommended alternative strength pharmacists were to supply under the directive when 30mg and 40mg capsules were in short supply.

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