Less than a quarter of pharmacies with low dispensing volumes have been told whether their top-up funding will continue beyond this month, the government has revealed.
Only 16 of the 73 pharmacies who receive the additional NHS England funding – designed to support 'essential' small businesses at least 1km from another pharmacy – have been assured they will continue to be financially supported once a national scheme ends on March 31, health minister Jane Ellison MP said yesterday (March 3).
In response to concerns raised by MPs about potential pharmacy closures if this funding ended, Ms Ellison stressed that this was a "localised" issue and not a “not a large-scale problem”.
Forty-seven pharmacies were waiting to hear whether their local NHS England area team had accepted their proposal for continued funding and 10 were still “working closely” with area teams, she said at a parliamentary debate on the issue.
Pharmacies on the current scheme – the Essential Small Pharmacies Local Pharmaceutical Services (ESPLPS) scheme – told C+D last month that they were “completely reliant” on the extra funding, and would have to close without it.
Spurring teams into action
The minster recognised that the situation was difficult for contractors, she said, who may not have had the time for “protracted contractual negotiations” with area teams about their funding. She hoped the debate would “spur” area teams to urgently look at outstanding funding proposals.
Ms Ellison insisted that an end to national funding did not mean these pharmacies had to close. It was “obviously up to the individual contractor” whether they wished to apply for an extension of their support funding or return to the normal pharmaceutical list, she said.
If these pharmacies closed, their patients would still have access to pharmaceutical services from internet businesses and delivery services, she added.
But shadow pharmacy minister Jamie Reed MP said some contractors would be left with “no option” but to close without the funding, which would have a “devastating impact” on communities.
“Isolated health economies are already struggling and frequently achieving sub-optimal outcomes. Reducing access will only worsen those outcomes and increase acute service pressures,” he said.
Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes, who called for the debate, said few pharmacists had confidence that funding would be agreed before the end of the month.
“The reality is that March 31 is exactly four weeks away and for many pharmacists there is still no certainty. I am acutely aware of how many are simply in a state of limbo, having no idea whether their business will be viable 28 days from now,” she 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.