What a time to be a pharmacist. To say I have mixed emotions at the moment would be an understatement.
It’s now almost a year since the Department of Health (DH) fired the starting gun on a period of extreme uncertainty for community pharmacy, when it first announced English funding cuts on December 17.
Then, when we did finally receive some clarity about what the proposals would entail last month, we were told the devastating news that – there will be a 12% cut to funding between December 2016 and March 2017, with a further 7.4% drop in the next financial year.
On top of the negative impact these cuts will have on added-value services for patients, the move has shattered morale across the profession. In imposing the cuts, the DH has demonstrated a complete lack of recognition for the hard work and valuable contribution community pharmacy makes to people’s health and, ironically, the financial savings it makes for the NHS.
Then, this week, just as we’re at our low point, NHS England gave the sector a boost by adding a pharmacy-led sore throat ‘test and treat’ service to its NHS Innovation Accelerator scheme (NIA), with a view to rolling the service out across the country.
The sore throat service puts community pharmacy front and centre of patient care. It also makes use of pharmacists’ clinical capabilities to alleviate pressure on GPs and reduce reliance on antibiotics. This is exactly how I’d like to be using my skills and knowledge.
An added benefit is that, together with the success of other services such as flu vaccinations, the sore throat service will play an important part in shifting people’s perception from the pharmacist as a checker of pill boxes to the health professionals that we are.
My spirits were lifted – for a moment.
However, once again there is lack of detail in the proposals. I appreciate that taking the service from a pilot to the NIA is part of a process, and detail will be developed in time. But given the backdrop of funding cuts, it would be good to have some idea of the practical side and how we will be remunerated for providing the service. Or will we be expected to offer it for free?
It is not known when the service will be rolled out nationally. While community pharmacy has shown it can rally and deliver a quality service at speed – I’m thinking about flu vaccinations in particular – it would be nice to have sufficient time to put a robust plan in place to maximise the success of the scheme.
Community pharmacy has so much to offer. But the ways in which the DH and NHS are communicating their plans is demoralising and disengaging for the profession. Community pharmacy leaders must play an integral role in defining the future of the sector, which includes deciding how best to utilise the Integration Fund.
Stuart Gale is chief pharmacist, owner and manager of the Frost Pharmacy Group in Oxfordshire.