Pharmacies provide a “shop front” into communities, which some of the most “vulnerable” communities rely on for access to healthcare services, Andrew Burnell, chief executive of City Health Care Partnership CIC, said.
Mr Burnell – whose organisation provides healthcare services in Hull, the East Riding of Yorkshire, Knowsley, Wigan and St Helens, including via four community pharmacies – said the current financial “plight” of community pharmacies needs to be understood.
Providing services is “just not profitable” for pharmacies, Mr Burnell said at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester last week (June 19). He claimed that “some of the bigger multiples” in his area had stopped offering some enhanced services, causing workload to filter onto other healthcare providers.
While community pharmacies know the value of providing healthcare services, ongoing “austerity measures” mean they are “under so much pressure to just make ends meet” that they could be forced to say: “I understand the value of this, but I can’t do it.”
“I think we’re in danger of losing some of that [pharmacy] network,” he added.
Left out of the NHS plan
Mr Burnell was responding to C+D’s question on where community pharmacy fits in with the NHS long-term plan. He “totally agrees” that the sector has been left out of the strategy.
“We’ve found it absolutely valuable having pharmacies,” he stressed. “We can do things in care homes in a different way, we can add shop fronts and we want to be healthy [living] pharmacies.”
The NHS has “never really capitalised” on the value that linking local healthcare providers – for example, pharmacies and opticians – could have, Mr Burnell added.
Responding to the same question, Professor Caroline MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said community pharmacy “has been undervalued by the health service”, despite local communities “often” recognising pharmacies’ value.
She likened pharmacies to opticians, who are expected to make up “pitiful” payments for sight tests through “selling specs”.