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Pharmacy leaders issue urgent funding plea as pharmacies 'struggling to survive'

Community pharmacy representatives have warned that the sector will face permanent pharmacy closures and medicine supply issues if it does not receive “urgent investment”, in a joint letter to the health secretary.

National representative bodies – the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the Company Chemists' Association (CCA), the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) – together with the heads of pharmacy chains Boots, Lloyds, Phoenix and Well penned a joint letter to Steve Barclay last week, they revealed today.

They warned that pharmacies are making losses and “struggling to survive” and that the sector has reached “a fork in the road”.

“We believe that you need to make a critical choice about the role you want pharmacies to play,” the pharmacy representatives told Steve Barclay.

They estimated that the sector has seen a 30% dip in funding over the past seven years due to cuts, which “is now leading to serious degradation of services to patients”.

“Many pharmacies are now dispensing at a loss and facing a serious cashflow crisis which we fear if not addressed, will rapidly move towards many permanent closures,” the letter said.

Read more: Dispensing at a loss is absurd – enough is enough

It warned that once closures start, they “will be hard to stop…as the sector is now so fragile other pharmacies would struggle to pick up the slack”.

They might even “put medicine supply at risk”, pharmacy bodies claimed, with “serious consequences” for patients who rely on prescriptions.

The letter asked Mr Barclay to make an “urgent investment in [the pharmacy] sector to help re-build capacity and sustainability and enable us to fulfil our potential to deliver more accessible and trusted services to patients”.

“Further funding would be an investment in a highly efficient sector that can deliver cost-effective solutions for patients at pace,” it added.

The letter was signed by Boots CEO Seb James, Lloydspharmacy CEO Kevin Birch, Well CEO Seb Hobbs and Phoenix’s managing director Steve Anderson.

They were joined by PSNC chair and CEO Sue Killen and Janet Morrison, CCA chair and CEO Dame Barbara Harkin and Malcolm Harrison, AIMp chair and CEO Peter Cattee and Dr Leyla Hannbeck and NPA chairman and CEO Andrew Lane and Mark Lyonette.

 

Read more: ‘Critical situation’: PSNC moots reduced opening hours amid NHS strike chaos

 

“Essential” health secretary heads plea

 

Ms Morrison said: “Many community pharmacies are now struggling to survive. This isn’t acceptable and it could soon have very serious consequences for patients. 

“[The] government now faces a choice about community pharmacy’s future – we and the other signatories to this letter will keep working tirelessly together to ensure they make the right one.”

And Dr Hannbeck urged Mr Barclay and NHS decision-makers to “act with urgency” if they “want accessible care to continue to be there for vulnerable patients”. 

“It’s essential that the secretary of state takes our plea seriously,” she said.

The sector “simply cannot continue like this”, with pharmacies “struggling to keep their heads above the water” and pay their bills, she added.

Read more: Government failing pharmacy as it grows ‘weaker and weaker’, APPG chair warns

 

Pharmacy First “a good starting point”

 

The signatories assured Mr Barclay that the sector shared his “ambition for community pharmacies to deliver more support and clinical services for patients”.

They suggested “a fully funded ‘Pharmacy First’ service” as “a good starting point”, though they said they would be “delighted to discuss” and develop other options, such as “a wider range of services that support medicine optimisation, long-term conditions, prevention and health inequalities”.

They added: “We would very much like to meet to discuss what is needed to ensure that this vital sector can continue to deliver core services for patients and if we are properly resourced, move quickly to help support the NHS more widely.”

The Department of Health and Social Care told C+D this month (December 9) that community pharmacies will see an increase in support for clinical services "over the next 18 months", hinting at the implementation of a ‘Pharmacy First’ service.

It followed Mr Barclay stating during a House of Commons debate that a ‘Pharmacy First’ model would allow pharmacists “to make better use” of their skills and drastically improve patients' access to general practice.

Read more: UPDATED: PDA ‘actively considers’ balloting NHS members over strike action

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