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Pharmacy First threatens independents with ‘financial deficit’, warns NPA chief

New services are leaving contractors chasing “their tails” amid concerns about a continued “surge of closures”, NPA chief executive Paul Rees told C+D. 

Insufficient Pharmacy First funding will have a “human cost”, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Paul Rees has told C+D.

Reflecting on the “hurried” introduction of the new Pharmacy First service this year, Mr Rees said that the “challenge for community pharmacists is that they've had to prepare for Pharmacy First on a Sunday [or] on an evening when they’re not working”.

“At the same time, they're having to chase their tails, ordering the medicines blind, and they may well find themselves in financial deficit,” he added. 

He said that while larger multiples “can even out the incoherent averaging process you get through the margin system”, independents “are prepared to put in their own funding” to keep their pharmacy going, putting themselves at financial risk to serve their “local community”.

“That's wrong, because it means the NHS and the government are just banking on the goodwill of community pharmacists”, he added.


“Surge of closures” 


And Mr Rees added that there is “no guarantee” that the £645 million in Pharmacy First funding announced last year is recurrent.

“Pharmacists are being treated in a way that is not fully respectful, because they have got to roll out a system without knowing whether it's long term,” he said.

Mr Rees told C+D last month that the NPA is “concerned that there will continue to be a surge of closures” due to inadequate funding for the sector.

He added that “if the rate of closures of 2023 continues, we'll dip below the 10,000 [pharmacy] mark in England by the end of 2025 - and that'll be the first time since..2006”.

“And yet, there is this bizarre juxtaposition that this is the time that politicians want pharmacy to deliver more”, he said.


Pharmacy First flubs


Meanwhile, an Avicenna poll this month revealed that pharmacies in the group are experiencing long Pharmacy First consultations, with less than 40% reaching the gateway criteria for payment.

And last week, the NPA demanded that the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) takes “urgent action” to fix faults in Pharmacy First IT systems.

It said that the IT issues could leave contractors “out of pocket” by “thousands of pounds”.

The digital problems came amid reports of Pharmacy First patients “yelling and throwing items” at pharmacists.

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