‘No assessment' of funding impact on pharmacy closures, says DH
The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has revealed it has not considered the impact of funding on English community pharmacy closures since 2019, in a move branded “disappointing” by sector leaders.
Pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien made the comments in response to two written question from the Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, who last month (February 8) asked what action the DH is taking “to reduce the rate of closure of community pharmacies in England”.
The MP for St Albans also asked whether the DH would assess the potential link between the sector’s funding since 2019 and community pharmacies’ “availability”.
Mr O’Brien replied last week (February 20) that while the DH “closely monitors the market…no assessment has been made of the impact of the level of funding for community pharmacies since 2019 on [their] availability”.
The pharmacy minister pointed to figures revealing the net number of community pharmacy closures in England every year since 2017/18.
England saw 110 net closures in 2021/22, marking the lowest number of pharmacies in the country since 2015.
Mr O’Brien continued that the government ‘financially supports” pharmacies in areas where there are fewer of them through the Pharmacy Access Scheme.
And he claimed that there is still “good access” to pharmacies in England, with eight in 10 people living within 20 minutes’ walking distance of their nearest pharmacy and a greater number of pharmacies in deprived areas.
But Mr O’Brien’s comments were met with concern from sector leaders following years of stagnant funding that have led to mass closure fears.
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) chief executive Janet Morrison told C+D that it is “extremely disappointing” that the DH has made “no assessment of the impact of the level of funding for community pharmacies”.
“We have been telling government and the NHS loudly and clearly that pharmacies are no longer economically sustainable,” she said.
However, she pointed out that an upcoming independent economic review into community pharmacy funding, which the negotiator secured as part of its most recent round of negotiations with the government, is expected to kick off “shortly”.
“We hope that that this review will help prove the dire situation to policymakers and inform future negotiations,” Ms Morrison added.
CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies Leyla Hannbeck told C+D it was “unfortunate” that decision-makers’ response to pharmacy closures was to “keep parroting” statistics about good access to pharmacy services in England.
“The point we keep making is that we are now in uncharted territory,” she said.
“Pharmacy closures are starting to spiral out of control and unless [the government] takes action to deal with the disastrous funding situation, it will soon not be able to claim any consistency in pharmacy access.”
Meanwhile, Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) CEO Malcolm Harrison pressed the DH to “urgently assess the impact that the broken funding model is having on the community pharmacy network and act to reverse the trend of permanent closures”.
A recent analysis by the CCA suggested that there has been a net loss of 720 pharmacies since 2015, with deprived areas the hardest hit.
“Patients in these communities must not continue to be denied access to primary care due to government underfunding,” Mr Harrison stressed.
Priti Patel: “Urgent intervention needed”
It comes as the former Home Secretary Priti Patel repeated pharmacists’ warnings that more pharmacies would close without “urgent intervention...because of pressures on funding associated with prescription drugs and the NHS tariff”.
“Pharmacies are to a certain extent subsidising the prescriptions that they issue in the community. The concerns are such that we are now moving towards a large number of permanent pharmacy closures, putting the safe supply of prescription medicines at risk,” she told MPs in the House of Commons earlier this week (March 1).
She continued: “With the son of a pharmacist now our Prime Minister, there is a great opportunity for the pharmacy agenda to take greater precedence and priority across the NHS and in our communities.”