Around 400 pharmacy contractors responded to the all-party pharmacy group (APPG) online survey, which ran November 17-30 and received 1,604 responses from pharmacy professionals.
Nearly half of pharmacy contractors, 47%, said it was “very likely”, “likely” or “somewhat likely” that their pharmacy would close in the coming year as a result of financial challenges, the survey found.
Nearly all respondents (95%) warned that their workplace is “under financial pressure”.
In light of the results and to “preserve the future sustainability of pharmacies”, the APPG is calling on the government to increase the English pharmacy network’s “overall funding”, the group said in a report published today (December 14).
“It is clear that current funding levels may already be causing irreparable damage to pharmacies and without some kind of reform the number of pharmacies in England could substantially decrease,” according to the report.
£370m advance payment “not enough”
As many as eight in 10 pharmacy contractors who responded to the APPG survey believe the £370 million shared with the sector as an advance payment to ease cashflow pressures “has not been enough”.
The government should write off the advance payments, the APPG argued, as “immediate pressures are pushing many community pharmacies to the brink and payments had not been enough to cover the financial pressures brought on by COVID-19”.
Last month (November 12) a Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson said that the DH is “carefully considering” removing the requirement for pharmacy contractors to repay the £370m loan.
A report commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association and published earlier this year (September 4) forecast that nearly three quarters (72%) of community pharmacies in England will be in deficit by 2024.
The survey also confirmed that pharmacy teams have struggled to source personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19. Some 1,400 respondents answered the question on PPE and of these, one in 10 said they “did not have appropriate access to PPE during the pandemic”.
The APPG survey also found that eight in 10 respondents did not have access to COVID-19 asymptomatic testing, despite NHS England and NHS Improvement confirming to C+D last month (November 11) that at the lateral flow tests will be made available to “all staff working in community pharmacies”.
Commenting on today’s report Royal Pharmaceutical Society English board chair Professor Claire Anderson said: “It’s crucial we maintain a resilient community pharmacy network and this report shows just how important it is that pharmacists get the help they need”.
“We continue to back calls for sustainable funding in community pharmacy and greater support for pharmacists’ wellbeing wherever they may work,” she added.
“Pharmacies have proven their worth during the pandemic”
Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck said of the findings: “The results of the survey are in line with what we have been outlining as an organisation, that the £370m advanced payment should be written off in full and that the sector should be given the support and recognition that it so thoroughly deserves.”
AIMp is “keen to see a decision from the Treasury as soon as possible in regard to the funding and an end to the uncertainty that this sector is currently facing, despite the universal support from the public and politicians alike”, she added.
Commenting on the APPG report today, National Pharmacy Association CEO Mark Lyonette said: “The public and their representatives in parliament are clear that pharmacies have proven their worth during the pandemic. The government and the senior ranks at NHS England need to respond decisively, for the good of patients and the nation as a whole.”