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DH withdraws £1.5m pharmacy research fund

DH: No plans to fund further research into the sector

The DH found "issues" with each of the four applications it received for the grant to investigate pharmacy's public health impact


The Department of Health (DH) has withheld £1.5 million earmarked to fund research into pharmacy's public health role because it was not satisfied with any of the applications, C+D has learned.

The DH’s Central Commissioning Facility received four applications to its call for research proposals in November 2013, but told C+D last month (August 18) that each of these had a “number of issues” regarding their “overall quality, feasibility and/or value for money”.

Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott branded the DH’s decision a “great shame and a missed opportunity”.

The “substantial” funding could have produced a “fairly major piece of work” that filled in some of the evidence gaps identified by the government’s pharmacy and public health forum in 2013, he told C+D last Friday (September 4).

The withdrawal of the funding means Pharmacy Voice will focus on supporting smaller-scale research into the sector by Academic Health and Science Networks and other organisations, he stressed. "It's not as if research is completely dead," he added.

Two applications made it through to the DH's second round of assessments, it said, but “unfortunately” neither were awarded the money. “This is clearly not the outcome that the DH and its partners were working for,” it said.

It “assured” C+D that its decision was “informed by commissioning panels made up of academic experts” as well as “expert peer reviewers” working in pharmacy.

The DH has “no plans at present” to fund further research into pharmacy’s role, it said. The £1.5m was due to come from the DH’s existing policy research programme budget, and it would not comment on how this money will now be spent.

The DH originally planned to award the funding in August 2014, but told C+D that month that it had “no timetable” for announcing the recipient.

How did the DH plan to spend the money?

In November 2013, the DH invited proposals from academics that could begin to "strengthen the evidence base" for community pharmacy’s public health role. In their applications, researchers had to describe how they planned to find evidence of pharmacies delivering cost-effective public health services with the correct mix of staff.

The successful applicant was also expected to examine which “models of delivery work best in different contexts”, and demonstrate the health and business benefits of delivering these services through community pharmacy instead of other health providers.

The DH had "ideally" wanted to offer a single contract to one team, but said it could "modify" its approach depending on the quality of bids it received. It had expected the money to be spent over three years, without covering the cost of interventions.

Source: DH invitation to tender, November 2013


How could a lack of government-funded research affect the sector?

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Angela Alexander, Academic pharmacist

I agree that the DH shouldn't waste money on weak research proposals. But I would have thought that if the DH had really wanted this evidence they could have worked with the researchers to develop something that would have been worthy of funding at a price they were willing to pay.

Amal England, Public Relations

The DH is dancing to the tune of the cunning doctors.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

What can I say?

Michael Holden, Community pharmacist

Disappointing but unsurprising. There is already a considerable evidence base for pharmacy interventions that improve the public's health but there are some gaps. Unfortunately, some commissioners are conveniently choosing to ignore the existing evidence where the system gets in the way and/or political will is lacking.

Bal Singh, Locum pharmacist

Essentially the DoH have said, "That's your lot. What are you gonna do about it? Nothing? Thought so."

cathryn brown, Community pharmacist

This is terrible news - we are no further forward in getting evidence for our public health roles than we were nearly two years ago. And how much money has been wasted in preparing the bids, and cogitating about them for all this time? I can't quite believe that, knowing the excellent research produced by academic colleagues, none of the bids was any good... Were the DH just hoping we wouldn't notice?

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