The long-awaited impact assessment – which was first promised by former pharmacy minister Alistair Burt in February – was published last month (October 20) and claims to evaluate the “likely costs, benefits and impact” of the government’s plans to impose a 12% cut to the global sum in England from December.
However, having read the full document, Noel Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said it was “all spin and no substance”.
“There is actually no assessment of the impact of these cuts on either patients or community pharmacy,” he told C+D last week (October 27).
The document states “there is no reliable way of estimating the number of pharmacies that may close as a result of [the cuts]”, which Mr Wardle said is indicative of how “deeply flawed” the assessment is.
“When the funding cuts were [first] announced last December, the pharmacy minister accepted that up to 3,000 pharmacies might close. If the figure of 3,000 has been bandied around, you might expect that to be featured in [the document] somewhere. It is not mentioned at all,” he stressed.
All about the costs
Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott said pharmacists would be "disappointed" if they were expecting the impact assessment to measure the impact of the cuts on community pharmacy.
"It rejects the idea that there are any negative impacts to closures and staffing or service reductions, other than the costs," he added.
When the document was published, Labour MP Jon Ashworth said “[the government’s] failure to release an impact assessment up until now is evidence that these cuts are driven entirely by cost and not by concerns about care.”
"The impact assessment also assumes that pharmacies will adapt to this challenge so that the impact is mitigated," he added. "We have previously pointed out the inelasticity of the community pharmacy cost base and its direct relationship to the amount of NHS workload currently undertaken."
Mr Wardle said some of the variables used to calculate the possible impact on travel time and cost for patients as a result of pharmacy closures – using the scenarios of 100 and 1,000 pharmacy closures – are “flawed” and “illogical”.
He also questioned the government’s “various” justifications of why the savings are being made.
“It doesn’t explain how the government has reached the figures it has,” Mr Wardle said.
“The document says the [cuts] are part of £22bn NHS efficiency savings – money the NHS no longer has,” he explained. “In another part of the document it suggests the money [saved from community pharmacy] will be used elsewhere in the NHS.
“Is this money the NHS has, or needs to recoup?” Mr Wardle asked.
“If you can’t assess the impact [of the cuts to pharmacy funding], I’m afraid you can’t go on and do it," Mr Wardle concluded.