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NPA: Survival of 'essential' small pharmacies not guaranteed

Gareth Jones: NHS England has handled applications for top-up funding "really badly"

NHS England’s top-up funding for low-volume pharmacies has simply "kicked the problem further down the road", says NPA public affairs manager Gareth Jones

NHS England's decision to award temporary contracts to low-volume pharmacies deemed "essential" does not guarantee their long-term survival, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has warned.

The majority of the 102 pharmacies that have secured an extension to the national support scheme for small businesses, which ended on March 31, have only received funding for one or two years, NPA public affairs manager Gareth Jones told C+D earlier this month (October 15).

"Quite a lot" of these pharmacies will be forced to close if NHS England refuses to extend their top-up funding any further, he warned.

The length of time taken by the commissioning body to react after the original top-up scheme ended was "completely unacceptable", and its regional teams have dealt “really badly” with pharmacies' individual applications for further funding, he told C+D.

“What they've done is kicked the problem a bit further down the road. Business owners just don’t know what will happen after that one or two years,” he said.  

"Have their cake and eat it"

Pharmacy owners who have secured temporary top-up funding also criticised the commissioning body's actions.

Graham Phillips, owner of Manor Pharmacy in Elstree, said NHS England had tried to “fit a square peg into a round hole” by expecting the business to do extra work – such as working towards healthy living pharmacy status – for the same amount of funding as it received previously.

“If they want more, that involves extra cost and the extra cost should involve some additional payment. They’re trying to have their cake and eat it,” he added.

Indira Panchal, director of Meiklejohn Pharmacy in Bedford, told C+D that there is “no way” she can keep the business financially viable after her three-year contract for top-up funding runs out.

"Divide and conquer"

Hassan Khan, owner of Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, told C+D that – despite securing a one-year contract  the ordeal had caused him to lose “all faith” in the profession. He had been forced to borrow money from friends to avoid going bankrupt, and would have to use his first batch of top-up funding pay them back, he said.

He also raised concerns that when the temporary contracts come to an end, there would be no voice strong enough to force NHS England to extend the funding further.

“It seems like divide and conquer. When there’s only going to be 20 [or] 30 people protesting, I can’t see anything positive coming down the line,” Mr Khan told C+D.

Asked whether it would consider extending temporary funding for these pharmacies, NHS England told C+D that funding applications are looked at on a “case by case” basis to ensure they “support population needs and provide value for money”.

The commissioning body said it could not provide any update on the number of pharmacies still waiting for a funding decision. In June, C+D reported that 48 small pharmacies were still in the dark about their funding.


What do you think of NHS England's handling of low-volume pharmacies?

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information


Praveen Modha,

I hope the owners realise that there is no Practic Payment anymore as well as Repeat Dispensing Fee and ETP Allowance have all been wiped out. The Establishment payment will soon go. It will be extremely difficult for many pharmacies to survive with £1.13 per item. Even if you are doing a moderate volume of about 6,000 items, you expect to receive £6,780 oer month. From this you need to pay the rent, rates, wages and other operational costs such as insurances, utilities etc. (even the NPA membership is now looking very expensive). If you do not have enough counter sales, then a pharmacy with 6,000 items will also find it hard to survive. It seems that whoever came up with this figure of £1.13 has not given it serious thoughts.

VINCENT HALL, Dispenser Manager/ Dispensing Assistant

The funding for the essential pharmacies has been kept at previous levels. This in effect is a net reduction in payments once inflation is taken into account. All other costs are going up and staff costs are growing faster than inflation.And margins are dropping. The Area teams are then asking the pharmacies to offer more services with no additional payments for those services. We have an essential pharmacy that serves a local community with a part time GP practice that opens no more than 1 hr per week! Our pharmacy is the only healthcare provider in the area that has a hilly terrain and to reach the nearest GP/ pharmacy means taking two buses and a long winded journey. I agree with the sentiment expressed by Graham Phillips! More work for less pay to strangle the pharmacy providing a good professional service that is valued enormously by the public but apparantly not by the NHS. We are not being protectionist by saying that the local community needs us.Money is not the only consideration when access to healthcare is more important and saves the NHS money in the long run.

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