Since the pharmacy cuts in England were first announced in December 2015, the sector has tried to grab the attention of politicians through leafleting campaigns, joining forces with local councils, and even delivering a record-breaking petition – now signed by more than 2 million people – to parliament.
With the 12% cut to pharmacy funding finally being implemented last month, the fight to secure concessions for the sector has continued unabated.
C+D spoke to three local pharmaceutical councils (LPCs) in the South West – Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall and Isles of Scilly – whose lobbying efforts were noted by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) as influential in ensuring that the government's Health Select Committee will assess the effects of the cuts this year.
Somerset LPC: The Health Select Committee is a beacon of hope
“Our cause isn’t about fighting the cuts necessarily, but fighting for a sustainable and transformed future [for pharmacy],” Michael Lennox, chief officer of Somerset LPC tells C+D.
Mr Lennox believes the Health Select Committee evidence session is as much about “pitching the future [of pharmacy] in a positive light, as it is acknowledging where [the sector] currently is”.
“The Health Select Committee is a way of trying to make hope possible,” he adds.
The joint efforts of LPCs in the South West also culminated in a round-table meeting in Westminster in November to discuss the issues facing community pharmacists. It was arranged by Mr Lennox’s local MP and Health Select Committee chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston, although she was unable to attend.
Nine MPs joined the LPCs and representatives from Pharmacy Voice, according to a Devon LPC member. Mr Lennox confirms it was a “very lively debate”.
“The primary care system in the South West is under duress,” Mr Lennox says. “How do you drive positive change, while at the same time continue to put further stress on a key component of primary care, by imposing [funding cuts] on community pharmacy?”
As well as overseeing “numerous” MP visits to pharmacies in the region, Mr Lennox says he has “really pushed hard” to get community pharmacy more involved in NHS England’s sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) – a new approach to help ensure that health and care services are built around the needs of local populations.
Having a system that is “driven” by the Department of Health (DH) and NHS England, but allows healthcare teams enough scope and freedom to tailor initiatives to those of their population, “feels like a good direction of travel”, Mr Lennox says.
Devon LPC: MPs want to hear from constituents, not LPCs
The chief officer of Devon LPC Sue Taylor says “the majority” of her county’s MPs have been contacted by “mainly independent” contractors about the cuts to pharmacy funding since they were first proposed.
“The advice we get from our local MPs is they need to hear from their constituents. That’s more powerful for them [than LPC contact],” she says.
Devon LPC helped some pharmacists to write to their MPs, while others messaged them independently, Ms Taylor explains.
“We’re making our local councillors and commissioners aware [of the issues facing pharmacists],” she adds. “All the MPs in Devon get regular updates and our newsletter.”
Ms Taylor stresses her LPC has a “good relationship” with its MPs. Conservative MP Gary Streeter chaired a House of Commons debate on community pharmacies in February 2016, and Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris posed one contractor’s concerns directly to the pharmacy minister, David Mowat. Both attended the Westminster meeting on the region’s behalf.
Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LPC: The cuts mean we have to do things differently
Phillip Yelling, the chief officer of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LPC says that in December 2016 Conservative MPs Derek Thomas and Sarah Newton – both present at the November meeting in Westminster – visited pharmacies in the region to hear the impact the funding cuts have had on community pharmacies and the risk of closures.
“Whether you’re a multiple with thousands of branches or a one-off independent, losing that percentage of your remuneration is a massive blow to your business,” Mr Yelling says.
Pharmacies will “have to do things differently” as a result of the cuts, with some considering staff reductions or stopping free deliveries.
“The biggest thing we can do is help [contractors] get what is available,” he says.
“We can’t stop them getting reduced remuneration. What we can do is make sure they get the quality payments, and build [on some of the services] they can provide to make up some of the loss.”
Like many LPCs, Mr Yelling’s LPC organised a meeting with pharmacists to discuss how to make best use of the quality payments scheme. It also has plans to support them in fulfilling criteria such as achieving level 1 Healthy Living Pharmacy accreditation, worth £1,280.
While “quite a few” pharmacies in Cornwall will qualify for the payment scheme, “only time will tell if businesses are able to survive”, Mr Yelling warns.