They say a week is a long time in politics, but recently it’s felt like that’s just as true for pharmacy.
A quick recap for those of you who haven’t been glued to the C+D website over the last 10 days: On October 13, pharmacy minister David Mowat announced schemes to promote the sector’s urgent repeat supply and minor ailments roles. But community pharmacists barely had time to react before the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee dropped the bombshell everyone was fearing: the government is planning to bulldoze ahead with its funding cut in England – which will now amount to a 12% drop for December to March, followed by a further cut for 2017-18.
As I write this, official details of how this funding plan will be implemented remain scarce. But a leaked document suggests a promised “access fund” – designed to offer protection from the cuts for the most-needed pharmacies – will benefit just one in 10 businesses.
The only glimmer of hope: the Department of Health (DH) has exclusively told C+D that a “final decision” on the cuts has still not been made. This lent an added urgency to attempts by pharmacy’s political champions to press the minister to reconsider. But in an autumn that has already seen both Mr Mowat and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens insist the sector must share the burden of the health service’s £22 billion savings, the outlook is bleak.
A deeper concern is the lack of a coherent policy behind these announcements. Surely any scheme to promote community pharmacy’s emergency supply role – which the National Pharmacy Association rightly branded a “smoke screen” for the cuts – will be undermined if pharmacies are forced to close?
If alarm bells weren’t already ringing, the DH told C+D last week that the funding cut should be seen in the context of its ambition to “invest £112 million to deliver a further 1,500 pharmacists in general practice by 2020”. In the words of one C+D reader, this justification is “complete nonsense”. While there are many benefits to giving GP practices greater access to pharmacists’ expertise, even its most vocal proponents have not suggested that this scheme would be a replacement for community pharmacies closing across the country.
Either the government doesn’t understand the difference, or it doesn’t care. At this stage, I honestly don’t know what is more worrying.