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.