“We cannot accept being treated as doormats by the NHS,” Sue Sharpe told delegates at the local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) conference last week (November 2).
Community pharmacies in England had “lost the battle" to prevent the £113 million drop in funding from December, but "we must take care that we do not lose the war”, Ms Sharpe said.
“I continue to use a warfare analogy, because this is what it is. This is a war against bad policy,” she added.
“It is bad for patients, really bad for local authorities, and it is bad for the NHS. That is why we rejected the government's imposition.”
Ms Sharpe was responding to a speech by pharmacy minister David Mowat, in which he attempted to explain the reasoning behind the funding cut.
Describing the most recent funding negotiations with the Department of Health (DH) as “the worst we have ever experienced”, Ms Sharpe stressed that the government’s proposals “clearly show pharmacy closures are on the agenda”.
“It is absolutely clear that everything points to a desire to thin out the pharmacy network,” she said.
Don't punish patients
Ms Sharpe urged pharmacists not to “punish patients” by reducing services and opening hours in the wake of the funding cuts.
“At an individual level, people need to decide what they do to manage the cuts, but I think we could each do with recognising that the local community is our greatest ally,” she said.
Ms Sharpe also stressed the “absolute need to not reduce prices for services”.
“It would be better to walk away than settle on prices that do not properly reflect the costs of [pharmacy] services,” she said.
PSNC is “seeking legal council”, said Ms Sharpe. But she branded a mooted strike as “unwise”, because “our greatest advocates will suffer”.
"It happened in Ireland a few years ago and was a complete disaster,” she added.
A few concessions secured
Ms Sharpe said the negotiator had managed to secure a few funding concessions from the DH – including the Quality Payments Scheme and changes to regulations around mergers – which could help contractors “survive” in future.
The amendment to the NHS pharmaceutical regulations – which will prevent a new pharmacy stepping in straight away if two pharmacies merge – is expected to come into force in December.
It is a “really important element”, Ms Sharpe said.
Ms Sharpe also confirmed that the government “wants to work with [PSNC]” to develop separate terms of service and payment for distance-selling pharmacies.
“We want distance-selling pharmacies to provide the full service that other community pharmacies have to, otherwise it could result in a discounted supply service,” she said.
If the issue is not resolved, Ms Sharpe predicted that clinical commissioning groups could face the choice of paying “whatever the price is from the bricks-and-mortar pharmacy, [or] 40p less if a patient uses a distance-selling pharmacy”.