“Were it not for the stoicism of community pharmacy contractors and the dedication and commitment of their teams to patients, I believe we would have seen even more pharmacies close their doors for good, leaving those patients without the support they desperately need,” Mr Dukes said in a video message to contractors published on the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee's (PSNC) website yesterday (January 18).
A PSNC spokesperson told C+D today (January 19) that the negotiator estimates that the net number of pharmacy closures was 201 in the 12 months to October 2020, based on NHS Digital’s e-dispensary quarterly released figures.
Lloydspharmacy announced last year (November 19) that it had closed 99 community pharmacies in the preceding 12 months.
Reluctance to acknowledge the sector
Calls from the press, the public and politicians to get pharmacies involved in the COVID-19 vaccination programme have acknowledged pharmacy’s central role in the nation’s health, Mr Dukes said.
“It’s to the credit of community pharmacy contractors that they want to get involved in that programme despite all the other challenges that they’re facing,” he added.
For this reason, he said it was “interesting” that the sector’s enthusiasm was met with “initial reluctance” from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to commission a pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service.
“I believe that wider reluctance on behalf of NHSE&I and government is simply because of the reluctance to acknowledge the importance of the sector in the nation’s health and therefore by implication the importance of having to fund that sector sustainably,” Mr Dukes said.
“So, let’s see the thanks of the public, the warm words of politicians turned into tangible financial support from the government and from NHS England. No more warm words without policy backup. No more delaying on key decisions and no more failure to support community pharmacy as the key part of the nation’s health that it is.”
An NHSE&I spokesperson clarified yesterday that pharmacies taking part in the vaccination programme need to be able to offer all approved vaccines from their premises.
C+D has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.
Six pharmacies started offering COVID-19 vaccinations in England last week, with more than 200 expected to go live with the vaccinations by the end of the month.
C+D asked NHSE&I to comment on Mr Dukes’ remarks on the national commissioner’s initial reluctance to commission community pharmacy. An NHSE&I spokesperson said NHSE&I’s position was made clear in a press release published last week, where it celebrated the 200 pharmacies that would begin offering vaccines in the near future.
However, the majority of pharmacies in England are not able to apply to offer COVID-19 vaccines due to NHSE&I’s requirements, including the ability to vaccinate 1,000 patients per week. Other pharmacies that were able to meet the requirements have told C+D they were rejected as vaccine sites by NHSE&I.