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'I measured 3 hills near my pharmacy to get extra funding'

Countryside around Wentworth Castle, Barnsley
Countryside around Wentworth Castle, Barnsley

Two contractors describe the lengths they went to trying to secure protection from the funding cuts

The Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) was introduced in December 2016 to protect pharmacies in England situated one mile or more from another pharmacy by road from the “full effect” of the funding cuts – as long as they are not in the top 25% best-performing businesses according to dispensing volume.

Last October, the Department of Health (DH) introduced a “near miss” process to review pharmacies that did not initially qualify for the scheme, but are affected by factors that could limit patient access.

NHS England confirmed last week (June 12) that it had completed its review of these applications – with 71 out of 370 found to be “eligible” for PhAS funding.

"Pavements here are steeper than they should be"

Thomas Bisset, owner of Ward Green Pharmacy and secretary of Barnsley local pharmaceutical committee, says he had confirmation that his application was accepted last Monday.

"My pharmacy is 0.963 miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and [not in an an area of] social deprivation," he says. "But I am also a mile from the nearest doctor in any direction."

To get to the next nearest pharmacy, patients have the "choice of three hills" to climb, which he claimed should be classed as – to use NHS England's own terminology – a "physical anomaly".

“To try and prove how hilly the area was, I actually measured the gradient of the hills – and then I found a piece of planning regulation and discovered that the pavements around us are actually steeper than they should be,” he says.

Mr Bisset’s investigatory work paid off: “It did occur to me that they weren’t going to listen to emotive reasons – you weren’t going to get funding because you are really nice. They needed hard facts, something that was difficult to argue against.”

However, Mr Bisset is unsure how much funding he will actually receive, or whether “it will it make a difference” to his pharmacy in the long-run.

"The point of a review is to have your case heard"

Indira Panchal, owner of four pharmacies in Bedford, said she will “continue to fight” after one of her two applications was rejected.

As soon as the near-miss review process was announced, Ms Panchal wrote to Public Health England (PHE) to clarify whether her Meiklejohn Pharmacy is in a deprived area.

She received “confirmation from PHE” – including charts and a pack of information – “to say that there were pockets of deprivation [in Bedford]” which NHS England had not picked up on, she tells C+D.

Despite submitting this PHE data as part of her application, she received a letter from NHS England on May 12 informing her that as it did not consider her pharmacy to be in a deprived area, it was "unable to submit your application to the national review panel for further consideration".

She says: "The point of an appeal process is for you to put your case together and have it heard by a panel of experts, not for someone on the front desk to say, 'well this doesn’t fit either of the boxes, so therefore I’m not going to send it'."

“I have four pharmacies: one is an 'essential small pharmacy', another [received] PhAS funding automatically, and one was accepted under the near-miss review process.

“[Meiklejohn] Pharmacy is now being funded by all the others,” Ms Panchal says.

"I have invested a lot of money into this place," she adds. "We have three consulting rooms, and we have been healthy living pharmacy-accredited for a good few years now. Yet there is no funding for us."

Following Ms Panchal's interview with C+D and her efforts to appeal the decision, NHS England has agreed to put her original application to its national review panel.

Both Ms Panchal and Mr Bisset are waiting for further updates from NHS England.

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