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Pharmacy services ‘just not profitable’, NHS conference hears

The panel spoke on the importance of community-based healthcare in the NHS
The panel spoke on the importance of community-based healthcare in the NHS

Struggling pharmacies may have to cut more services because they are “just not profitable”, the chief executive of a healthcare provider told the NHS Confederation conference.

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”.

Does your pharmacy struggle to provide services due to financial constraints?

C A, Community pharmacist

NMS and MURs are both profitable... or at least the company I work for consider them 100% profit.

Though if you consider a pharmacist 100% expense but offset against the 100% profit services, pharmacists are cheap...

R A, Community pharmacist

Little too late! The sector is a complete mess we have two of the largest chains and two of the largest wholesalers in the UK under the thumb of American conglomerates whose first priority is the shareholders of the company, not the NHS or UK public. 

Thanks to lack of opportunity it has seriously demoralised the profession within the community pharmacy. I am desperately trying to break into another field but it is taking time. I think my generation pharmacist all probably face the same dilemma stay in a sector that faces the same fate as the British coal mines or look for something new.  Unfortunately, it means the passion and the drive to bring excellence into the sector is non-existent. Most pharmacist probably practices "defensive pharmacy" out of fear of their employer and regulator.

locum norfolk, Locum pharmacist

Not often I write anything on these places but your comment is spot on... I am in a similar situation to yourself. Nice to see someone who hasn't got their head in the sand! On a side note the picture painted at university to students is scarily not accurate... scandle in the making

locum norfolk, Locum pharmacist

With regards to

R A, Community pharmacist

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It is clear what direction the DoH wants to take.

C A, Community pharmacist

Move all prescriptions online?

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