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‘We have to be realistic’: Government could impose new contract, CPE warns

CPE has announced that negotiations for the next one-year pharmacy funding deal have begun but admitted that a new contract may not be in place by April or could be imposed by the government.

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison yesterday (February 26) announced that negotiations for a “one-year funding settlement” have begun.


The current five-year deal, which began in 2019, is due to come to an end this year and be replaced by a new contract from April.


Speaking on the first day of the 2024 Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference, Ms Morrison said that CPE has received its “opening letter on negotiations” and had its first meeting with commissioners.


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


But Ms Morrison added that there is a “question mark” over whether a new contract deal would be completed by March 31, adding that “a lot of years” negotiations aren't completed by the start of the new financial year.


Addressing the conference by a live video link, Ms Morrison also warned delegates of the possibility of an imposed 2024/25 contract.


But she stressed that if this were the case, the negotiator will nonetheless “try to influence” the contract’s terms.



Contract “red lines”



Ms Morrison told delegates at the Sigma conference that CPE’s committee had discussed the sector's “key asks” and "red lines” going into the one-year deal negotiation.


She said that “key asks” included additional core funding, an annual uplift to funding and fees, an end to over-delivery clawbacks, fundamental reform of the margin delivery framework and an “easing of the workload” including fixing the price concession system.


Also speaking at the conference, President of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) Ash Soni asked Ms Morrison what would happen if NHS England (NHSE) and the government did not agree to the negotiator’s red lines.


Read more: Welsh pharmacies secure 5% funding increase for 2023/24


Ms Morrison said that CPE would be working to highlight shared objectives but conceded that the commissioning bodies “can always impose” a contract that has not been agreed with the negotiator.


“We have to be realistic about that,” she added.


She noted the “backdrop” to the negotiations, pointing out that GPs have had their most recent two contracts imposed on them, consultants had rejected a new pay deal and junior doctors were on an extended strike in relation to their own negotiations.


Read more: Pharmacies treated as an ‘afterthought’ by government, says MP


She said that if the sector were landed with an imposed contract, CPE would “try to influence what is imposed” and to ensure the government doesn’t “take things back if [CPE doesn’t] agree to them”.


In a later presentation, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) Dr Leyla Hannbeck told the conference that CPE must “hold firm” and not accept an imposed contract.



Pharmacy First “leverage”



Ms Morrison also noted that the government’s spending review will be in place for another year, meaning any funding boosts will not “break the bank”.


And she said that she does not expect “lots of other additions of services” to be included in the new contract.


She told delegates that Pharmacy First had given the sector “leverage” to bolster core funding in negotiations as it is a “big promise” from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.


Read more: University awarded £2.4m to conduct three-year Pharmacy First evaluation


She noted that “you can't have super rich icing on a collapsing cake”, adding that the government needs pharmacies “to be open in order to deliver Pharmacy First”.


Ms Morrison said that Pharmacy First was “important” to politicians because it purports to address a problem that makes the public “really cross”, namely lack of access to their GPs.


“They want this solution to work to show that they're listening,” she added, “so we need to make sure that the core funding for the sector is there in the 2024/25 deal”.


Read more: Ash Soni: Independents ‘not aware of just how financially challenged’ they are


But she warned that Pharmacy First also presented a “downside” as the NHS might argue that the sector had just received new money and would ask why it needed more.


And she noted that there were “huge pressures” on public spending and “competition” for additional money.


Ms Morrison added that the negotiator continued to call on MPs and parliamentarians to put pressure on the government “to give [the sector] a better deal”. 


Read more: Leadsom: ‘We want to support you in every way we can’


Meanwhile, chair of the health and social care committee (HSCC) Steve Brine said earlier in the day that he expected the committee’s upcoming pharmacy inquiry report to recommend a change in the way that community pharmacy is funded.


It comes as the chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned in an exclusive interview with C+D that funding intended for the upcoming Pharmacy First service could be used to “offset” the core contract.


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