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Independent Voice – toughing it out


Independent Voice – toughing it out

The community pharmacy network is so much more than the supply of medicines

It will have been a tough start to the new year for many independent pharmacists. The announcement from the Department of Health that there is to be a 6 per cent cut in the pharmacy budget from October this year will have been a real shock to many. Sitting in the meeting with the Minister and his officials, I was acutely aware that this was going to be tough for many independents, who have found recent years increasingly challenging. Margins have suffered as both competition from online pharmacies and the clawback in Category M have made it more difficult than in previous years.

Unlike corporate businesses, many independents have everything at stake in their pharmacy business – their pension, their assets and often the employment of friends and family. I am well aware of how worried many contractors would have felt on hearing and reading about the government’s announcement.

Despite the announcement just before Christmas, pharmacies will have soldiered on, as they always do, to deliver the help and service to patients much needed over the holiday period. That in itself is evidence of the spirit of community pharmacy.

The community pharmacy network is so much more than the supply of medicines. For many of the patients that you see or their carers, the pharmacy team provides an essential service of advice, medicines and a listening ear. We know too that most pharmacies are also providing services above and beyond those for which they are remunerated by the NHS. Whether it is home delivery of medicines or preparation of MDS, these services are provided by pharmacists not because they are paid for them, but because they know that they help their patients.

So we will need to see much more of that spirit in months and years to come. The DH has made it clear that the £170m budget reduction is non-negotiable. A 6 per cent cut, which may only just be the start, will be devastating for many independents.

However, this is only one aspect of the challenge to the pharmacy sector. It is clear from the terms of the consultation letter that the DH and NHS England are looking for more than simply cuts. They want to see the community pharmacy network reduced and transformed. Some of those changes, if allowed to happen, would threaten the very existence of the community pharmacy network and I am clear that we cannot allow those misconceptions to take root. We have to challenge and explain the consequences of such changes to patient care.

Pharmacy Voice is working with the other pharmacy organisations such as PSNC and the RPS, and our member trade bodies, the NPA, the AIMp and CCA, to support the sector both as it campaigns against these changes but also to show the real value of the community pharmacy network. We need government to understand that pharmacy is not averse to change but it is opposed to the destruction of its network.

Technology vision and reality

We also recognise that the whole of the NHS budget is under pressure and every part and partner needs to continually drive efficiency. We know that, while the government may see technology as the answer to the problems, the reality is that this may not provide the solutions it seeks.

Hub and spoke could provide some businesses with the capacity to do more, but as yet these are commercial decisions for each business owner, and there is currently no evidence to indicate that there are cost savings in the process. We need time to develop models and see how they can work for all pharmacies, including independents. The government cannot make assumptions at this stage.

If we are to protect the community pharmacy network, but also adapt it to face the increasing health challenges facing the nation, then the sector must work together. Not just independents and multiples, but all the organisations that represent pharmacy.

I know that the talented and professional team at Pharmacy Voice are committed to working with those partners and our members to support and champion the work of community pharmacy.

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