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What will 2024 hold for community pharmacy?

With the new year just around the corner, C+D’s editorial team dusted off their crystal balls to divine what surprises the next 12 months could hold for pharmacy teams. Here are their predictions…

It’s been quite a year for community pharmacy, with lots of ups and downs. In the past 12 months, Lloydspharmacy has exited the high street, England’s long-awaited national Pharmacy First service got the green light and NHS England (NHSE) finally published its long term workforce plan.

So what could be in store for the sector in 2024?  The editorial team at C+D share their thoughts and predictions for next year.

 

Beth Kennedy, editor: We need better funding to give pharmacy teams the pay rise they deserve

 

Years of covering C+D’s annual Salary Survey results have taught me that very few – if any – pharmacy workers are paid what they feel they deserve. After all, it’s a job that comes with considerable responsibility and long, gruelling hours, not to mention years of training. I think we can all agree that pharmacists and their teams should be well remunerated for what they do.

The trouble all comes down to funding, or the lack thereof. Doesn’t it always? It’s been impossible for salaries to keep up with, let alone surpass, inflation when funding has been slashed by 30% in real terms since 2015. And that’s a problem – especially when so many are struggling to recruit for roles in community pharmacy or even to retain the staff they do have.

Read more: Living wage increase will cost pharmacy sector up to £195m, warns CPE

But unless the government wants pharmacy’s service-led future to fall flat on its face, it’s going to have to have to sort out core funding. We’ve been here before, with pharmacy leaders repeatedly pushing for a souped up contractual framework that takes the extreme headwinds of the past few years into consideration. But right now I’d say the odds on this bearing fruit in 2024 are actually pretty good.

Rishi Sunak has, rightly, recognised a well-resourced community pharmacy network as a vote winner, which could have helped to push through the £645 million cash injection for pharmacy services announced as part of the primary care recovery plan in May. The Prime Minister will likely be looking to curry favour with the public over the coming months, so I’ll not be too surprised if next year’s much-anticipated new pharmacy contract for England contains a tasty funding increase. Here’s hoping.

 

Costanza Potter, news editor: New year, no shortage of supply issues

 

A plethora of stories about medicine shortages have crossed my desk over the last year and I’ve no doubt this will continue into 2024. I wish it were not so, but it seems to be a grim fact of life for pharmacists.

I’ve been staggered by how much time is wasted sourcing medicines and fielding queries from anxious patients and then to add insult to injury, how much pharmacies end up dispensing at a loss. And although I’ve heard repeated murmurings about reforms to the concessionary system since I joined C+D a year ago, no solution is yet in sight.

Read more: The problem unveiled: Reporting medicine shortages

From what I can tell, pharmacists are stuck between a rock and a hard place – either unable to supply certain medicines at all or losing time and money to do so – and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more serious shortage protocols (SSPs) issued to mitigate the impact and yet more concessions notices from Community Pharmacy England (CPE). This is of course out of pharmacists’ hands.

Read more: Is our medicines supply chain fit for purpose?

But I wonder what this will look like on the ground as pharmacists take on more and more prescribing themselves thanks to the upcoming Pharmacy First service and the push towards independent prescribing (IP).

Perhaps these long-awaited changes will soften the blow of shortages, with pharmacists able to mitigate their impact before it bites. Only time will tell, but I can’t wait to find out – and fill you in via C+D’s news pages.

 

Kate Bowie, digital reporter: Will the sales bloodbath continue?

 

Never has there been a tale of two pharmacy markets like 2023. Seeing Boots set out plans to close 300 branches, Rowlands’ most recent financial documents revealing its “close, merge, dispose” strategy and Lloydspharmacy’s community pharmacy estate bite the dust completely was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Meanwhile, this year has seen independents land firmly on top (for once). C+D analysis found that by June this year, the numbers of pharmacies owned by small chains overtook those owned by large multiples.

Read more: ‘Historically significant’: All the reaction to Lloydspharmacy’s high street exit

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I can’t be the only one getting nervous. As much as I want to say 2024 will be the year of the independent, a part of me thinks we may have a bloodbath on our hands.

Independents have been more willing to spend savings, give up holidays and invest in expanding than big multiples this year. Will that result in a biblical flood of independent sales in 2024? Only time will tell.

 

James Stent, digital reporter: A journalist’s job would be considerably easier if in possession of powers of prophecy

 

Requests for comment could be scheduled months in advance, and scoops written up before the events involved had even been contemplated. A more lucrative career – perhaps a professional national lottery player – might have been chosen.

Read more: David and Goliath: Small chains now run more pharmacies than large multiples

While no oracle, in the course of my work, I have noticed that there are habits within the community pharmacy sector and the Department of Health (DH) that will almost certainly crop up in the new year when the long-awaited Pharmacy First service launches:

An IT failure causes despair:

There will be at least three disasters involving the IT system that is being developed to administer the Pharmacy First service. Without fail, IT will fail.

Pharmacy First’s media launch:

The launch of the service will be accompanied by a misguided advertising campaign. So annoying is Sniffles, a grotesque cold virus mascot, that some melodramatic people will swear off ever using a pharmacy again. Fortunately, the NHS swiftly replaces the adverts and the public will embrace the new era of community pharmacy.

GPs complain that they miss seeing patients with the sniffles:

With waiting times at doctors’ surgeries reduced thanks to Pharmacy First, work will become a bit brighter and more varied for most of the nation’s general practitioners. Later in the year, a small number of GPs will raise a stink, saying that they miss attending to patients with colds, uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) and ear infections.

Consultation room crunch:

As the public starts seeing the value of the service, traffic to pharmacies increases. Many will find that demand for consultations outstrips what their premises can handle. A campaign is launched for pharmacies to receive subsidies to add space for consultation rooms to high street branches.

Core funding crisis continues:

While pharmacies will see increased revenue from the service, they will also remain subject to increased costs, as inflationary pressures persist. The core funding gap will continue to increase beyond £1.3 billion. Nevertheless, in response to calls for more core funding, DH will repeatedly refer to Pharmacy First’s £645m over two years and pretend that this new income for new services addresses the core funding crunch.

 

 

Zainab Hussain, features assistant and C+D Community reporter: The push towards services will pile on the pressure

 

Supposedly, the announcement of the Pharmacy First service earlier this year was something to celebrate; from a skills perspective, community pharmacists are more than capable of offering the seven common conditions it covers, plus the expanded contraception and blood pressure services also revealed in the primary care recovery plan.

But I have to say, from speaking to independent pharmacists and reading the submissions we receive at C+D for the opinions section, it seems clear to me that pharmacies will be met with an even higher workload. The right financial support coupled with adequate time to deliver the service will be required to make way for a happy outcome.

Read more: All the headlines: Primary care recovery plan funding details revealed

Perhaps a £645m investment may seem like a lot of money but, in theory, it shouldn’t have been enough to seal the deal on Pharmacy First. Pharmacies are closing, the sector giant Lloydspharmacy bid farewell to the high street this year, and when Community Pharmacy England (CPE) revealed that its request for a contraception service fee uplift was rejected, it was simply adding more to the pile.

Unless the sector is given the right resources, a service-led future rather than once based around dispensing is only going to add increased pressures onto community pharmacy. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out whether community pharmacy can take on the additional stress…

 

Nana Ofori-Atta, clinical and custom content editor: A year of changes and adaptation in education awaits

 

The introduction of IP as part of the MPharm degree will mark a significant difficulty in pharmacy education, with higher education bodies having to design courses to integrate a prescribing element. They’ll also have to meet the extra hours of training required while still providing future pharmacists with all the knowledge required to join the register.

My prediction is that the year 2024 will be a year of many changes by higher education bodies, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and other governing bodies to facilitate, adapt and incorporate IP into the national curriculum. In addition, the foundation year will need to start reflecting these changes.

Read more: Use of ChatGPT in revalidation could trigger FtP case, GPhC warns

Also, the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) will need to be considered for access to knowledge and how that interacts with continuous professional development (CPD) for the sector.

In all, 2024 is set to hold a year of changes and experimentation with the pharmacy education.

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