London pharmacies with low dispensing volumes have said it is "disgraceful" that NHS England could suspend some of their funding because of delays in its area teams' decision-making.
NHS England area teams can choose to extend a national top-up scheme – designed to support small businesses at least 1km from another pharmacy – that ends in March. In a letter from NHS England to all London pharmacies on the Essential Small Pharmacy Local Pharmaceutical Services (ESPLPS) scheme, sent on February 18 and seen by C+D, the commissioning body said it would try to consider the funding situation for each of these pharmacies “within a six-week window" but warned it was “not likely to complete this before April 1”.
According to PSNC, 18 London pharmacies were on the scheme last year. Some of these told C+D that NHS England had waited “until the last moment” to deal with the problem, and said the commissioning body’s plan to return them to the pharmaceutical list until funding was decided could put them at a loss.
Hassan Khan, owner of Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, told C+D that he had been forced to borrow money “left, right and centre” to keep his business afloat while he waited for funding to resume.
“What kind of business can you run if you’ve got no idea which direction you’re going [in]? It’s a complete and utter nightmare,” he added.
If a pharmacy was granted continued top-up funding, NHS England said it “may” backfill the amount for the rest of 2015-16 to make up for the delay.
Operating at a loss
Chris Fernandes, owner of Rumsey Pharmacy in Dulwich, said that the current level of funding barely covered his staff’s wages and moving onto the pharmaceutical list would mean the pharmacy would operate at a loss “from day one”.
“They’ve left it so late. We’re the only pharmacy within a 20 to 25 minute walk - which is rare in London - and we have a lot of elderly patients,” he told C+D.
Another London contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, told C+D that they had not even received the letter from NHS England. “If the [funding] goes, I don’t know how long we’d be able to stay open,” he said.
Last month, ESPLPS contractors told C+D that NHS England’s area teams were not prepared to fund their pharmacies indefinitely – instead expecting the businesses to make themselves more profitable.