PSNC: Pharmacy First must not be left to ‘piecemeal’ local commissioning
The government’s primary care recovery plan, expected “imminently”, could see Pharmacy First services commissioned locally, sector leaders have indicated.
But the pharmacy negotiator has warned against “piecemeal” local commissioning of the service, urging the government to commission it nationally instead.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) yesterday (March 22) said that the recovery plan is “expected imminently”.
The plan is set to include measures aimed at helping primary care to recover from the impact of the pandemic and PSNC has been “pressing” for it to include “a fully-funded national Pharmacy First service”, it added.
But a PSNC document also published yesterday – summarising a House of Commons “emergency summit” on community pharmacy’s role in the plan earlier this week – indicated that the service could instead be commissioned locally.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D that any new national services will be negotiated with PSNC. Meanwhile, ICBs can commission local pharmacy services at any time and some areas already offer pharmacy minor ailments services, they said.
National service needed
PSNC's document listed one of the “main themes” of the roundtable discussion as whether Pharmacy First can “be commissioned on a local basis through [integrated care boards]”.
However, it warned that local and national agendas “must be aligned” since pharmacies “rely on central NHS funding for more than 90% of their income”.
“Commissioning a piecemeal Pharmacy First scheme would be inefficient and slower than a nationally commissioned service, and would result in regional differences,” it said.
Pharmacies “not a priority” for ICBs
The document suggested that the service may not be commissioned at all if left to integrated care boards (ICBs), since community pharmacists are “poorly represented” on the boards.
This means that pharmacies are “not a priority for commissioning new services”, it said.
PSNC added that a template guiding ICBs in the commissioning of Pharmacy First and other services “could be desirable” in the future.
However, “a nationally commissioned service would have immediate impact and help the recovery in primary care”, it said.
It comes as one local Pharmacy First scheme that was in place for 20 years is being decommissioned at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, the negotiator reiterated that a national Pharmacy First service “is the best chance for getting significant additional funds into community pharmacies” – believed to be proposed as part of the upcoming plan.
But it pointed out that while PSNC submitted a business case for a Pharmacy First service in England in 2021, it has not yet been commissioned “despite supportive words from ministers”.
Attended by 15 MPs, the “emergency summit” that took place on Tuesday (March 21) was co-ordinated by PSNC as part of the wider Save Our Pharmacies campaign to discuss “community pharmacy’s role in the primary care recovery plan”.
Sector leaders attending the summit included PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chairman Andrew Lane and Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) member Ian Strachan.
They briefed MPs on the “severe challenges facing the sector” and the “urgent action” needed to address them – including the “very urgent need for additional funding” – PSNC said.
The negotiator said the event saw the sector receive “strong parliamentary backing”, with PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison describing it as a “very open and frank discussion”.
“It was good to hear that there remains an abundance of political goodwill towards the community pharmacy sector, as well as very real concern about the future and the potential impact on the millions of people who visit us every week,” Ms Morrison said.
She added that she hopes attending MPs will encourage the government to “take firm and decisive action” to invest in community pharmacies.
PSNC urged MPs to “initiate direct contact” with ministers and the Prime Minister, including by “leading a delegation of local pharmacists to meet” with the health secretary or pharmacy minister.
They should also raise the issues discussed at the meeting at the parliamentary health questions session, seek a debate on the issue or participate in constituency visits to local pharmacies, it added.
But speaking to C+D after the event, AIMp member and independent pharmacy owner Mr Strachan said that while the MPs “absolutely get it” and are supportive of the sector, roundtables are not the most effective way to bring about change.
“Do I think these kinds of forums work? No, I don't, if I'm being honest with you,” he said.
“It's nice and exciting to have a lot of MPs in a room,” he added. “[But] to me, lobbying of this kind is ineffective and I think that we've got to find a better way.”
It comes as members of the House of Lords have warned that the government is in “total denial” about the crisis facing community pharmacies and urged it “enter into discussions” with PSNC about introducing a “fairly funded” Pharmacy First service “as soon as possible”.