Legal action against the government’s funding cuts cannot be considered until it makes a “formal” decision on how the sector is remunerated, lawyers have told C+D.
Law firm Charles Russell Speechlys wrote to the Department of Health (DH) in March, demanding that the government confirm it had not committed to reducing pharmacy funding by 6% in October before it had consulted the sector.
The letter, signed by eight of the firm’s pharmacy clients, also called for detailed proposals for any planned changes in pharmacy funding.
In its response to the letter, received last month, the government said it had provided “confidential material” to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) about its funding plans, Charles Russell Speechlys senior partner David Reissner told C+D.
This material could go “some way to remedy the legal deficiencies” of how funding is being decided, Mr Reissner said. But he added: “We cannot know because we do not know what material has been provided [to PSNC],” Mr Reissner said.
In the meantime, legal action “is not something that would be considered” until the government makes a “formal determination of remuneration” for the sector, he stressed.
PSNC confirmed that it had received the confidential documents, but said it could not confirm more at this stage.
Mr Reissner added that the government had also used its response to “insist it is entitled to go ahead” with its funding plans and “deny that anything unlawful has taken place”. However, the government’s lawyers had also not “challenged our criticisms” of the consultation process, he added.
Mr Reissner said that, despite these issues, there is an “encouraging note” in the government’s response.
“They say [the government] is open to PSNC persuading it that the proposed cuts ‘cannot be achieved consistently with the Secretary of State’s statutory duties’, which could affect the level of funding.”
It would be unlawful for Jeremy Hunt to determine the amount of pharmacy funding at a future date, “unless a proper consultation has been carried out”, Mr Reissner stressed. “This could result in the level of funding being revisited,” he added.