The government’s pledge to spend an extra £33.9bn annually on the NHS by 2023-4 represents a unique opportunity to end funding austerity for community pharmacy in England and deliver health secretary Matt Hancock’s promise to unleash the potential of pharmacies over the next five years.
The reality is a network in crisis with hundreds of pharmacies closing. As a result there is reduced access to essential healthcare advice and services in many communities, leading to greater pressure on already overstretched A&E departments and GP surgeries. The government wants and needs quick wins that deliver better access to healthcare and in turn improve patients’ NHS experience. Yes, we need more hospitals and GPs, but it will be years before those investments deliver actual patient benefits.
Yet we already have a community-based network of healthcare professionals who can deliver what the country needs: it is called community pharmacy. Why then, at a time of increasing need, is the network contracting?
Common sense would dictate the opposite. With an additional £33.9bn on the table, the health secretary has an opportunity he did not have in previous years to invest in our sector. The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) was agreed at a time of austerity across the public sector, but clearly that is no longer the case. I do not believe in special pleading, but I do believe in wise investments that deliver results the public will notice and appreciate.
There is much that I welcome in the CPCF. It provides funding stability, it refers to pharmacy’s future as an integral part of the NHS, and it offers substantially more funding for future clinical services.
However, it also requires us to invest significant amounts of money to deliver new patient services and more efficient ways of working such as centralised dispensing. While it’s welcome, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service increases workload with no specific extra funding.
I welcome the ambitions set out in the contract, but the reality is that the funding formula for community pharmacy in England is fundamentally flawed. Taking account of inflation and increased costs, it amounts to a substantial cut in funding in real terms.
Mr Hancock now has the opportunity to revive the community pharmacy network. I hope he will take that opportunity.
Steve Anderson is managing director of Phoenix UK