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Pharmacy First cash may get sucked into core funding ‘black hole’, warns NPA boss

The chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has warned that funding intended for the upcoming Pharmacy First service could be used to “offset” the core contract.  

Pharmacy First funding must not be used to offset the sectors’ other financial problems, NPA chair Nick Kaye told C+D in an exclusive interview at the end of last year.

Reflecting on the need for a “sustainable way to fund dispensing”, Mr Kaye told C+D that issues with the current core contract could affect the new service.

“I think my worry is that that money [for Pharmacy First] may get sucked up into the general disappearing black hole of core funding, where it should be about the enablement of the service”, he said.

The new service, which is due to begin on February 1, will allow pharmacies to treat seven common conditions without the need for a GP appointment or prescription.

Pharmacies that sign up to offer it before January 31 will be given a £2,000 upfront payment, while all pharmacies that deliver the service are set to receive a “monthly fixed payment of £1,000” and £15 per consultation.

Mr Kaye told C+D that he believes pharmacists “will engage [with Pharmacy First] through financial necessity” because general funding for the sector is “so bad”.

But he stressed that “the issue” would be if the service was “offsetting the core contract”.

“That doesn't feel right” Mr Kaye said, adding that as a pharmacy superintendent himself, his pharmacies “have to deliver [Pharmacy First] to be sustainable.”


“It doesn’t work”


Speaking about the funding issues faced by pharmacies and his “wish list” for the next pharmacy contract, Mr Kaye highlighted the need for “a sustainable way to fund dispensing, whatever that looks like”.

“The supply chain needs to be robust” and pharmacies can’t keep dispensing “at a loss”, he added.

“We can't run on the current system where Category M takes time to catch up in an increasing drug cost market, it doesn't work”, Mr Kaye said.

“I'd like to see the government actually value medicines”, he added.

C+D approached the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) and NHS England (NHSE) for comment. 


CPE: “Not a panacea for funding woes”


Community Pharmacy England (CPE) told C+D today (January 15) that its committee is “only too aware of the extreme challenges all pharmacies are continuing to face and [is] very cognisant that the Pharmacy First investment is not the panacea for pharmacy’s funding woes”. 

CPE chief executive Janet Morrison said that CPE understands that the service launch “came at the most challenging time of year for the sector responding to winter pressure, but it’s crucial that we make this service a success as, ultimately, it will help pave the way for bigger prizes in the future”.

The negotiator has been “working flat out” with local pharmaceutical committees (LPCs), NHSE and others to “do as much as possible to support pharmacy owners and their teams on their journey to implementation”, she added.

Read more: Is Pharmacy First addressing the sector's root challenges?

But she stressed that CPE is “not letting up on making the case for a wider funding uplift and other easements”, including a “significant increase to the core funding contract to protect pharmacies and ensure they can continue to meet the needs of their local communities”.

“Things have been extremely difficult for all pharmacy owners and their teams as they struggle to work under immense pressures: this is not acceptable and not sustainable, as we continue to tell policymakers, politicians and the national press,” Ms Morrison said.

CPE expects negotiations to “discuss what the community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF) will look like from April 2024” to “begin imminently”, she added. 


Preparations ramping up


This month, community pharmacists told C+D that they were ramping up preparations for the new service ahead of the launch next month. 

Superdrug’s pharmacy superintendent Niamh McMillan told C+D last week (January 4) that “due to the short timescale of the service launch”, the multiple has had to “accelerate the sourcing and delivery” of training.

Owner of Exmouth's Lewis Pharmacy, Jackie Lewis, said that she has had to “pick up the slack outside of shop hours” because there is not “enough money in the system” to employ staff in the short term, until the workload becomes “more secure”.

And owner of Lewis Grove Pharmacy in London, Salim Jetha, told C+D that while the service specification presented “all sorts of challenges”, he was excited for community pharmacy to be “recognised as an integral part of public health”.

But he said that he has already fielded “several requests from patients and even from NHS 111” referring patients before the launch date thanks to the “publicity” around the service.

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