I recently read a report about how Indian farmers have been left with a burden of heavy debt, thanks to the government’s pricing policy on their crops. The Indian government fixes the crop prices annually, and there are no subsidies for crop failure caused by natural disasters, such as bad weather. When crops fail, the small farmers are left with no government support. When I read the Department of Health's (DH) letter on December 17, announcing the planned 6% funding cuts in England, I felt a bit like one of the Indian farmers – betrayed by my government.
Most small community pharmacy contractors, like myself, heavily invested into pharmacy premises, stock, and staff, with long-term plans to deliver excellent pharmaceutical services to the local community. This investment requires careful financial planning, taking into account all the risk factors. However, the biggest threat to the future of my pharmacy business comes from the political bombshell of the planned cuts.
Independent contractors, already financially squeezed, don’t feel independent anymore. On the contrary – they feel like the slaves of the DH, who are relentlessly asking them to work harder for no extra pay. Instead of rewarding us, our paymasters unfairly unleash financial punishment. Are there any other businesses treated like ours? We are the victims of our own success.
The cuts are not the way forward to create a better community pharmacy network. The way forward has to be through strategic planning – the DH needs to work with the profession to establish cost-effective ways of delivering excellent services.
This will simply not be achieved by the 6% cuts – they will adversely affect patients’ healthcare and will deny the neediest patients of the services they currently benefit from. The proposed financial constraints mean free services, such as prescription collection and delivery, as well as monitored dosage systems will be a thing of the past.
You cannot run pharmacy, as proposed by the government, from a warehouse model. A gigantic dispensing unit in a remote place, out of reach of the patients, isn’t the way forward for the sector. Repeat prescriptions are not grocery items – when things go wrong they are potentially dangerous poisons. Local pharmacies are a safe haven when it comes to dispensing medicines and any errors are dealt with promptly. This cannot be the case if the remote dispensing hub is many miles away.
And face-to-face contact remains vital to pick out any long-term condition changes. The proposed click-and-collect service will not work for many patients. The elderly, infirm or anyone unable to use online technology prefer their local community pharmacy.
A community pharmacy isn’t just about the premises, stock and technology. A pharmacy’s biggest asset is its staff, without which it cannot operate. Forced closures of potentially 3,000 pharmacies will result in redundancies of highly skilled employees. It takes years of training to acquire pharmacy skills, and you can’t pluck skilled staff from the street.
Not only are community pharmacists not being rewarded for their success, but the 6% funding cut and potential closures show we are being let down by our government.
Santokh Singh Sangha is the owner of Sangha Pharmacy in Southampton