So the final skirmish of the 18-month funding cuts court battle has ended. The casualties include the credibility of the government’s decision-making, the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) understanding of community pharmacy, and hundreds of pharmacies that have either closed or are struggling to stay afloat.
The winner? Well in a legal sense that was the government, whose blunt funding cuts withstood a persuasive challenge and appeal.
But pharmacy has surely won the moral victory. Judge Justice Collins dismissed the original court case “with regret” in May 2017, explaining that while some cuts may have been inevitable, the “small number of companies involved” and the quality of the data used to decide how to implement the funding reduction was “less than satisfactory”.
He also predicted that delivery services “may have to cease” – a prophesy that turned out to be eerily prescient.
Hopes for the success of the appeal were subdued from the off, with both former and current CEOs of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) stressing that they didn’t want it to derail negotiations for the 2018-19 funding settlement.
So what now? Based on PSNC’s Simon Duke’s comments to C+D, it seems the last barrier to beginning these long-delayed negotiations has now been removed. If there’s cause for optimism, it’s that the recently appointed health secretary Matt Hancock and pharmacy minister Steve Brine both entered their posts long after the cuts were decided and hold no ideological ties to them.
The court battle brought with it unwanted media scrutiny – peaking with Lloydspharmacy’s announcement that it would cease trading at 190 locations – as well as protests from MPs and patients. What better way for the government to draw a line under this debacle than to agree a “fair, realistic and sustainable” (to use Mr Brine’s own words) funding settlement for the sector?
While the government may have won the war, this is the only way they can win the peace.