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Warnings issued that ‘ill-judged’ community pharmacy cuts risk closures

Community pharmacies are at risk of closing because of DH spending cuts, a number of professional bodies have warned.

Following a consultation, the DH published plans to cut funding for community pharmacies, currently at £2.8bn a year, by 4% in 2016-17 and 3.4% in 2017-18, meaning it will reach £2.6bn.

The department will also reduce the establishment payment, which community pharmacies receive if they dispense above a certain prescription volume, by 20% in December and 40% next April, with the aim of phasing it out by the end of 2019-20.

David Mowat, the health minister, said: “Patients deserve the best possible care which is why this government is committed to building a modern pharmacy sector that is fit for the 21st century. Pharmacists are a vital source of knowledge and information, as well as providing vital services such as flu jabs, health checks and, of course, dispensing vital medicines.

“Far from jeopardising services, our modernisation package will make the most of these skills and transform how pharmacists and their teams operate in the community, ensuring the public receives the very best care in the places they need it, seven days a week.”

There are 11,500 community pharmacies in England, an increase of 18% in 10 years, and their budget has increased by 40% over the last decade.

The new Drug Tariff, which starts on 1 December 2016, will also consolidate professional fees, practice payments, repeat dispensing payments and monthly electronic prescription service payments into one activity fee.

However, the government said to make up for the cuts, it would introduce a pharmacy access scheme for remote pharmacies. It is expected that 1,356 pharmacies will receive funding of roughly £11,600 in 2016-17 and £17,600 in 2017-18.

Furthermore, through a quality payments scheme, up to £75m will be available for pharmacies which meet specific gateway criteria.

Impact of pharmacy access scheme ‘remains to be seen’

In a statement, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it “remained to be seen” if the access scheme would “lessen the impact on opening hours and staffing levels in these vital community pharmacies”.

Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “In response to the consultation on changes to community pharmacy, PSNC set out the need for the government to make decisions about community pharmacy services based on a number of principles that put the needs of patients and communities, as well as evidence, at the heart of the process.

“Sadly, this has not been the case, and we are instead now seeing the implementation of a decision for which no evidence has been produced and which many people, including patient and GP groups, have warned will have a detrimental effect on patient care and lead to further pressure on other healthcare services.

“This is a short-sighted and ill-judged approach to take, particularly when alternative constructive proposals that would address the need for the NHS to make cash savings have been put forward by PSNC.”

The proposed cuts come despite a recent NHS England report, which said that pharmacies should play a key role in delivering the seven-day NHS.

A ‘Community Pharmacy’ report also said that the role of pharmacies in the NHS should be “radically enhanced”, and the New NHS Alliance said they should be “at the heart” of care delivery.

In a statement, the New NHS Alliance said: “We know that community pharmacy plays an essential part in reducing the demand on general practice and relieve A&E pressures.

“As the first port of call for many, high street pharmacies are the cornerstone of healthy communities. Closure will affect deprived areas more significantly than affluent ones, and health inequalities will worsen. We urge the DH, NHS England, CCGs and local authorities to come together and ensure these areas do not lose their key community hub for health and wellbeing.”

Dr Keith Ridge, the chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said that the public can be reassured that while “efficiencies are being asked of community pharmacy just as they are of other parts of the NHS, there is still sufficient funding to ensure there are accessible and convenient local NHS pharmacy services across England”.

“The NHS is committed to a positive future for pharmacists and community pharmacy,” he added.

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