Academics have branded the Department of Health’s decision to withdraw £1.5 million earmarked for pharmacy research a “big blow” for the sector.
The DH’s Central Commissioning Facility rejected four applications responding to its 2013 call for research into community pharmacy’s public health role, because each of these had a “number of issues” regarding their “overall quality, feasibility and/or value for money” it told C+D last month.
Joe Bush, senior lecturer in pharmacy practice at Aston University, said funding for research into the sector’s role is already “very limited” and the loss of the DH money is “disappointing”.
Evidence for the impact of pharmacy services is going to become “increasingly important”, but the current data available on most services “isn’t good enough”, he stressed.
Applicants for the funding only had one month to submit their proposals, and Mr Bush said this timescale was “completely ridiculous for a £1.5m grant”. “If the [DH] is claiming the applications are substandard, the limited amount of time given probably had some impact.”
Keele University head of pharmacy Nigel Ratcliffe agreed that research into the sector’s role is “extremely important to give the public confidence in the expertise of pharmacists”. It is a “shame” that the funding has been cancelled because any data produced would have been “extremely valuable”, he told C+D.
A lack of commitment
The government's pharmacy and public health forum persuaded the DH to put up the £1.5m, and forum member and Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni told C+D that withdrawing the money “indicates a lack of commitment” to the sector’s public health role.
“One of the things [commissioners] consistently ask is, where is the evidence to support public health services? Money is tight and if you take [research] away, you reduce the opportunities to produce the evidence you need,” he added.
Fellow forum member and Berkshire contractor Graham Jones echoed the view that research is needed to persuade local authorities to commission public health services. “Any money that could carry forward pharmacy’s role would be very welcome,” he told C+D.
Community pharmacist Cathryn Brown described the DH’s revelation as “terrible news”. The sector is no closer towards producing evidence for its public health role than it was “nearly two years ago”, she said.
“How much money has been wasted preparing the bids and considering them for all this time? Was the Department of Health hoping we wouldn’t notice?” she added.