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Sector denounces 'unfair' GP funding uplift for staff pay rises

The community pharmacy sector has reacted with outrage to the news that GP staff will receive pay increases, with practices given a funding uplift to cover them.

Last week (July 13), the government announced that the GP contract would be “uplifted to provide funding for salaried general practice staff”, who will see a 6% salary increase as part of a pay rise for the NHS workforce.

But there was no such uplift announced for staff in community pharmacies, which like GP practices are NHS contractors and run as private businesses predominantly providing NHS services.

Read more: 'Our funding is rotten': Sector needs £1.1bn now, warns AIMp chief

When asked whether an uplift for community pharmacy staff had been considered alongside the pay increases for other NHS workers, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said that remuneration of community pharmacy staff is not covered by any pay review body.

It added that further details on the GP staff uplift, including whether pharmacists employed through the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) would receive a pay uplift, will be revealed in due course.

 

Uplift is a “moral imperative”

 

Superintendent pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, Ade Williams, told C+D that the funding uplift for general practice was “welcome” and “much needed”.

But he asked how community pharmacy, “part of the same wheel” of primary care, could not be considered similarly.

Read more: HSCC chair urges government to deliver extra pharmacy funding 'fast'

“It is universally accepted that the cost of living is bearing down on all of society…irrespective of the contractual model [in which] they work,” Mr Williams said.

He added that an uplift is a “moral imperative” to ensure staff morale doesn’t “plunge lower”, adding that it might be time for a “reassessment” of community pharmacy’s value.

Read more: NPA sets out vision to ‘redefine’ community pharmacy’s role in the NHS

Luvjit Kandula, chief officer at Greater Manchester local pharmaceutical committee (LPC), told C+D that community pharmacies should be put on an “equal footing” with other NHS providers.

“Community pharmacies are also NHS contractors,” she said, adding that alongside pay uplifts and “protected funding”, community pharmacy workers should be given “access to an NHS pension” too.

 

“Inequity”

 

Nick Hunter, chief officer for Community Pharmacy Nottinghamshire, told C+D that the differences between GP and community pharmacy contracts are such that “like for like” comparison is “not really possible”.

Nevertheless, he said that “there certainly seems [to be] an inequity”.

Mr Hunter told C+D that the “underfunded” community pharmacy sector “desperately needs an uplift” if pharmacy contractors are to be able to increase pharmacy staff pay.

Read more: Locum rates rise by a fifth to nearly £39 UK average, booking agency reveals

And Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck told C+D that community pharmacy has not been given “the same level playing field” as others in the NHS “for years”.

She said that 90% of independent community pharmacies’ work is on behalf of the NHS. Like GP practices, community pharmacies are businesses, “but pharmacies get no such funding from the NHS” for staff pay rises, she added.

Dr Hannbeck called for “a cultural change” in the perception of community pharmacy among NHS leadership, so that it can achieve “better recognition and the level playing field” that it deserves.

 

“Need an uplift in funding now”

 

Hitesh Patel, CEO of Pharmacy London, told C+D that workers in community pharmacy will be “really disappointed” that a pay rise like that awarded to other healthcare sectors is not “possible” due to contractors “struggling to meet rising wage costs”.

Mr Patel said that the increase in minimum wage has already left pharmacy contractors “having to award their staff a raise that they can ill afford”.

Read more: UPDATED: Boots trainee pharmacist pay tops out at £25k following uplift

“If a counter staff member gets a 50p per hour increase this has to be matched, for fairness, with dispensers and technicians,” he said.

Mr Patel said that pharmacy contractors “need an uplift in funding now” to cope with rising costs, since the £645 million announced as part of the Pharmacy First plan will likely take “a year or two materialise”.

 

“This feels unfair”

 

In a statement issued last week (July 14), Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison said that the public sector workforce pay rise would feel “unfair and very far from good news” for community pharmacy contractors.

Ms Morrison added that CPE is “fighting hard for a sustainable long-term funding arrangement”, alongside “complex” negotiations on the £645m for expanded services that are “continuing at pace”.

It is “critical” that community pharmacies receive “a fair deal”, she said.

Read more: ‘Aiming for agreement in July’: CPE chief gives service negotiations update

Meanwhile, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told C+D that while it is “not asking” to be covered by a pay review body like other NHS sectors, an “independent economic regulator” should be put in place.

“Consideration should be given to an independent economic regulator for the sector to ensure the needs of commissioners and providers are appropriately balanced when determining remuneration,” NPA director of corporate affairs Gareth Jones said.

 

PDA: Pay decisions up to each contractor

 

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), told C+D that the sector’s current structure meant that pay decisions for community pharmacy workers are made at the level of the individual contractor.

As such, the PDA negotiates on behalf of its members who work at Boots and Lloydspharmacy, among others.

Mr Day said that if the structure changed to “a singular contract and pay system” for all employed community pharmacists, then the PDA would be able to represent pharmacists in those talks instead.

 Read more: CPE calls for ARRS to end as new workforce plan looms

“But that is not the case and not being proposed,” he said, adding that there is no sign that a review of the system was a priority.

Mr Day pointed to the decision by the Welsh government to provide increased funding conditional on staff pay increases in September 2022 as the “closest we’ve got”. At the time, the PDA said it had a “mixed reaction” to the offer.

Read more: NHSE to ‘extend success’ of ARRS under workforce plans

It comes as AIMp boss Dr Hannbeck this week argued that an immediate £1.1 billion cash injection was needed to deal with economic pressures in England.

Voices across community pharmacy have for some time cited increased staff costs, as well as drug price increases and other ballooning costs, as a major threat to the sector.

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