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Pharmacy bodies join forces to fight for more funding as closure threat looms

Community pharmacy bodies have “stepped up” their joint efforts to lobby the government for fairer community pharmacy funding and a financially backed Pharmacy First service in England.

They will develop “shared resources for effective parliamentary lobbying and mobilising public opinion”, they revealed this morning (January 18).

It follows years of “chronic underfunding [that] threatens further pharmacy closures”, they said.

In October, it was revealed that there was a net loss of 110 pharmacies in England in 2021/22, resulting in the lowest number of pharmacies since 2015.

Read more: Health minister moots ‘more funding’ for pharmacy

It comes after years of stagnant funding for the sector, which has been subject to a flat £2.5 billion annual global sum since a five-year deal was reached by the government and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) in 2019.

The Save Our Pharmacies campaign will be backed by the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) and the PSNC, with the first of the coalition’s campaign events slated for March.

Although the groups “already meet regularly to discuss shared concerns, share intelligence, and co-ordinate work”, the campaign “marks a step up” on their joint advocacy work for better funding, they said.

 

Pushing for Pharmacy First service

 

The campaign will also continue to push for a fully funded Pharmacy First service in England.

C+D reported today that PSNC CEO Janet Morrison had revealed that the negotiator was “starting to have proper discussions” with the government about what a Pharmacy First service “might look like”.

CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison stressed that a fully funded service would “bring much needed investment into the sector and help build resilience and capacity into primary care”.

He continued: “The government has a decision to make, and community pharmacies have already shown the tremendous strides they can take when the country needs them most.”

Read more: PSNC kicks off ‘proper discussions’ on Pharmacy First with DH

“The government can no longer turn a blind eye to the sector’s broken funding model while insisting community pharmacy teams do more and more,” Mr Harrison commented.

Earlier this month (January 9), the CCA warned that the community pharmacy sector in England faces a funding shortfall of more than £750m per year – working out at more than £67,000 per pharmacy.

Meanwhile, AIMp CEO Leyla Hannbeck stressed that pharmacies were “struggling to keep their heads above the water as they are simply struggling to pay their bills”.

She continued: “They are making losses, who can continue to survive if they are making losses?

“AIMp has continuously highlighted this to decision makers and brought this to the attention of the public via the media. We hope that this cross-sector campaign will further amplify the plight of community pharmacy and its important role within the healthcare system and that it can successfully influence the fortunes of pharmacies everywhere in the country.”

 

“Cranking up the noise”

 

And PSNC CEO Ms Morrison argued that the government had reached “a fork in the road” in its approach to community pharmacy.

She said: “It can continue to degrade pharmacy funding and let patients suffer the inevitable consequences of a reduction in services and pharmacies; or it can invest in this popular, cost-effective, entrepreneurial sector and empower pharmacies to help to meet the many challenges facing our health service.

“This campaign is a clear warning shot to government about the path it is currently on, and it will also help to keep patients on our side – which is something contractors have been asking us to help them with.”

Read more: Community pharmacist makes ‘case’ for sector in emergency meeting with PM

NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette said the representative bodies would be “cranking up the noise” to persuade the government to invest “decent funding” into community pharmacy.

He continued: “Our joint message is very clear: pharmacies can help get the NHS back on its feet, but not while the sector itself is on its knees.”

But maintaining support from the public will also be “critical” to the campaign’s success, marking a “key focus in the months ahead”, he said.

 

Continued lobbying

 

The Save Our Pharmacies campaign is not the first time that community pharmacy representatives have come together to fight back against funding challenges.

At the end of last year, the sector's leaders issued a stark warning that community pharmacy will face permanent closures and medicine supply issues if it does not receive “urgent investment”, in a joint letter to the health secretary Steve Barclay.

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

And AIMp board director and Day Lewis executive director Jay Patel and some PSNC members attended an emergency NHS recovery meeting with the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year (January 7).

In the meeting, Mr Patel warned of the challenges facing community pharmacies, including “massive demand” due to poor access into the health service and real-term funding cuts leaving many pharmacies “in a cashflow crisis”, he told C+D at the time.

 

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