Lack of funding is stifling the potential of local professional networks (LPNs) to strengthen pharmacy's commissioning voice, LPCs have said.
LPNs, which were set up last year to help local commissioners identify the need for pharmaceutical services, could be very effective at co-ordinating pharmacy projects, LPC leaders told C+D this week. But there was "virtually no money" available to support the networks, they said.
The 27 NHS England area teams are individually allocated an annual total of £120,000 to fund separate pharmacy, dentistry and optometry LPNs in their area; London's LPNs are funded by three area teams. NHS England told C+D it was unable to provide details of how much money had been spent on pharmacy LPNs or how many meetings LPNs had held with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Nottinghamshire LPC secretary Nick Hunter said very little money had been assigned to LPNs by his local NHS England area team. The chair of the pharmacy LPN was funded to work in the role for only two days a month, which was "very limiting", he told C+D.
More funding would enable the LPN to co-ordinate pharmacists and CCGs to deliver services such as advice to care homes, he added.
Sunderland LPC secretary Jim Smith, who is also a member of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear LPN, said the networks had a lot of "goodwill and enthusiasm" from health professionals but needed more financial backing.
"In our region we have good representation, a good [LPN] chair and I'm cautiously optimistic. They could be effective, but funding is very tight," he said.
Oxfordshire LPC chief officer Fiona Castle told C+D LPNs were a "distraction" from the work of LPCs and could not do "anything meaningful" without more funding.
Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Darracott agreed that LPNs were underfunded but said they should still be able to "get things moving".
"This is an opportunity to think differently about what might be commissioned to improve patient care. For the next 12 months I'd be concentrating on bringing the local networks together and working out what might be possible," he told C+D.
NHS England told C+D that chairs had still not been appointed to two of the 25 pharmacy LPNs across the country, but it insisted the networks were an "integral part" of the reformed NHS and would be able to provide "invaluable" clinical leadership in their areas.
Many pharmacy LPN chairs already had "well-established" networks of CCGs, hospitals and community pharmacists in place and were addressing issues such as hospital discharge planning and reducing medicines waste, NHS England said.