The £11.1m funding includes £3m “in response to specific issues of concern” raised by contractors and to provide “extra support for pharmacies in rural locations”, Northern Ireland's Department of Health (DH) announced last week (November 16).
A further £6m will be spent on “medicines adherence support services…to support domiciliary care, which are not currently commissioned”, the DH told C+D.
Up to £2.1m of “transformation funding” will be used to launch a Pharmacy First service for the winter period, the DH added, to help pharmacies become “the first point of contact for patients for the treatment of a range of common conditions”.
The £11.1m is on top of a £104m global sum for both 2018-19 and 2019-20, which was also confirmed last week, the DH said.
The funding announcement comes after Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) warned that the cost of providing community pharmacy services is currently under-funded “by at least £20m”. The “sustained funding reductions” are impacting contractors' health and could trigger a “snowball” of pharmacy closures, it told C+D earlier this month.
As part of the Pharmacy First service, patients will be able to “consult with their community pharmacist first for advice and treatment for sore throat, colds and flu-like illness”, the country’s commissioner the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said in a letter to contractors.
“The aim of the Pharmacy First service is to displace activity, including consultations, advice and generating prescriptions for these common conditions, from general practice to a community pharmacy,” it said.
Pharmacies will be able to offer the service from December until March 2019, but “if the level of activity suggests potential overspend, the service may be withdrawn prior to March 31”, the HSCB warned.
“Unable to meet all funding demands”
Along with the extra £11.1m, consideration is also being given to further transformation funding, “to increase access to pharmaceutical care for patients”, the DH said.
However, DH permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: “Intensifying financial pressures across the health and social care sector mean we are simply unable to satisfy all of the demands for additional funding.
“We are very mindful of the growing pressures facing community pharmacists in different parts of the province. Officials have been working very hard to make [the] announcement possible,” he added.
“The additional funding…will help ensure that local populations have access to the most visited provider among all of the health services available.”
“Sticking plaster approach”
CPNI chair John Clark branded the latest announcement a “sticking plaster approach” which has “totally failed to address the funding difficulties that community pharmacy is currently in”.
“Patients will suffer, medicines supply will be disrupted and pharmacies will shut. That will have a huge impact on patient safety and will ultimately make the health service much harder to access for thousands of patients. The impact could not be starker,” he stressed.
Suspension of new pharmacy openings
The DH also said as part of the contract announcement that the HSCB has been asked to complete a needs assessment exercise for pharmacy services.
“Pending completion of the needs assessment, the HSCB will be consulting with CPNI on the introduction of a temporary suspension of new applications to join the pharmaceutical list while this work is ongoing,” it explained.