When I joined C+D in March 2016, it was just three months after the Department of Health (as it was then) had announced that it would slash the global sum of funding for the sector by 6%.
The government would go on, 10 months later, to unveil its final funding plans for the following two years: a whopping 12% (£113 million) cut between December 2016 and March 2017, with a further 7.4% (£95m) funding drop over the next 12 months.
Accountants predicted that, on average, each pharmacy in England would lose £9,800 in profits between December 2016 and March 2017, and a further £18,000 in 2017‑18 – a total loss of as much as £27,800 over two years.
Sure, the government made some other funding streams available: it claimed its Pharmacy Access Scheme would maintain more or less the same funding levels in eligible pharmacies. The Quality Payments Scheme gave pharmacies another opportunity to pick up £6,400, though this was a fraction of the amount pharmacies would be losing.
The impact of the government’s decision has shaped my entire time here at C+D. The stories about the fightback by the sector – in the form of record-breaking petitions and High Court cases – and the consequential pharmacy closures, were particularly hard to report on.
I’ve also seen the toll it’s taken in the results of the C+D Salary Surveys of 2017 – the first full year after the cuts – and 2018. In the comments I’ve read under C+D stories, on social media and heard in conversations with pharmacists, many lay the blame for the sector’s rising stress levels on the impossibility of doing more work with diminishing funding. Community pharmacists and their colleagues are only human, after all.
And yet countless times over the past three years I’ve seen the amazing ability of pharmacy teams to be resilient, keep going, and above all keep providing fantastic patient care, award-winning projects, and maintain a sense of humour (especially on Twitter).
It’s one of the reasons why, now that I’m moving on from C+D and away from writing about the sector, I will always continue to support and champion community pharmacy – albeit from afar – and the wonderful work you do every single day.
These are uncertain times – when Brexit, medicines shortages and the threat of “further efficiencies” in the community pharmacy funding budget all cast a shadow over the sector’s future. My biggest hope is that the hard work, dedication and professional pride that I’ve seen in community pharmacies across the country are not overwhelmed by these challenges. I’ll still be rooting for you, and I hope that your efforts are seen, valued and rewarded. They deserve to be.
You can keep up with Lilian Anekwe in her new job as New Scientist’s social media editor by following her on Twitter.