The £300m of “advance funding” announced by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) to help pharmacies in England with cash flow issues during the COVID-19 pandemic is not new money for the sector.
Rather, it is to be “paid as uplifts to contractors’ January and February payments” – payable in April and May – and the sum will have to be “reconciled at a later date”, the negotiator said.
Pharmacy bodies have concerned that these measures are not enough.
NPA: First step
The money is an “essential first step”, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said in reaction to the announcement yesterday (March 31).
However, it is “only part of the support needed to keep vital frontline services going”, and the NPA “expects [the] government to make good on commitments to meet all the additional costs associated with coronavirus”, it said.
The funding advance will “give medicines wholesalers greater confidence that pharmacies can meet their patients’ needs without defaulting on their wholesaler bills”, it added.
The NPA said it “looks forward” to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens fulfilling promises to cover “all extra costs incurred by NHS providers during this pandemic.”
AIMp: Funding advance will have “catastrophic effect”
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said the funding announcement “will have a catastrophic effect on many pharmacies, not just financially, but by also having a deeply negative effect on the morale of all pharmacy staff”.
Although it is “good to see some cash injection into this severely cash-starved sector”, the PSNC announcement “does not allow for sufficient funding”, she added.
“This huge shock of not only continued under-funding, but also the increased operating costs that are directly due to our front-line role in supporting the government's efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic, is a harsh message to hardworking community pharmacies in England,” Ms Hannbeck said.
In a letter last month (March 17), Mr Stevens promised additional funding for contractors to cover the cost of responding to the coronavirus crisis.
Ms Hannbeck said AIMp therefore appeals for “fairness, understanding and support from those in the position of power to allow this sector to continue caring for patients by urgently addressing these issues”.
CCA: “We are disappointed”
The Company Chemists’ Association said it is “disappointed” both with the “scale of the support currently being provided”, and the fact that pharmacies “will ultimately have to pay it back to the government in the months to come”
“We do not think that the support pharmacy teams are being provided will allow them to cope with coronavirus”, the CCA said in reference to Mr Sunak’s commitment to provide any resources necessary to help the NHS during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The CCA has “grave concerns” that pharmacy businesses, large and small, “will not be able to continue without adequate additional support” and said the outbreak may lead to permanent closures.
“In addition to the increased cost of purchasing medicines, pharmacies are having to pay for additional staff and overtime, additional cleaning and guarding as well as providing protective equipment such as screens and visors, to protect their teams, so that they can stay open for the public,” it added.
RPS: “Not yet enough”
Although the announcement is “a welcome step in [the] right direction”, it “should come from new money”, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English pharmacy board chair Professor Claire Anderson said.
“With rising costs, this will not yet be enough to support those pharmacy teams working hard on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
The RPS has called for “an easing of the administrative burden, including stopping the management of prescription charges, as well as equal access to occupational health support for all staff” in light of the pandemic.
“We are seeking further clarifications on how the government protects all pharmacy teams, including pharmacists and support staff having appropriate access to personal protective equipment and timely testing for COVID-19 so they can continue looking after patients,” Professor Anderson added.