Pharmacies with low prescription volumes could face closure due to the phasing out of their support funding, C+D has learned.
The commissioning body’s 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.
But contractors operating under the Essential Small Pharmacies Local Pharmaceutical Services (ESPLPS) scheme told C+D last week that area teams were not prepared to fund their pharmacies indefinitely – instead expecting the businesses to make themselves more profitable.
NHS England told C+D it could not comment on this “hearsay”. It only confirmed it lacked the legal power to continue the ESPLPS scheme nationally, and its area teams were considering where support would be needed.
In a letter seen by C+D, one NHS England area team told a contractor – who wished to remain anonymous – that local funding may not be ready in time for the national scheme’s end in March. If further funding was granted, there would come a point when payments would reduce every quarter and the business would eventually have to become financially independent, it said.
Another anonymous contractor told C+D that they had received a letter from their own NHS England area team stating that it did not want to continue to fund ESPLPS pharmacies indefinitely.
"Really poor" attitude
Raj Morjaria, owner of Millers Chemist in Cheddleton, Staffordshire, said he had expected his area team to “rubber stamp” his application for further funding, but its attitude had been “really poor”.
“They were saying, ‘you can be replaced by distance-selling pharmacies’. It was so disappointing, trying to convince them that pharmacy is far more than a collection and delivery service,” he told C+D.
NHS England medical director for the North Midlands Ken Deacon said the allegations did not represent the views of the Shropshire and Staffordshire area team and the commissioning body “strongly refuted” them.
PSNC told C+D it thought most ESPLPS pharmacies would “eventually” be able to become financially independent, and it hoped NHS England would ensure the businesses would be supported “for as long as is needed to enable them to continue providing essential services to local populations”.
“We would not regard short-term contracts that gradually reduce the income available to these pharmacies to less than is needed as a satisfactory outcome to these local negotiations,” said PSNC head of regulation Steve Lutener.
There were a maximum of 99 pharmacies in England operating under the scheme last August, added PSNC, which has issued guidance to help their applications for funding.