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Lack of government support for pharmacy criticised in the Lords

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Lack of government support for pharmacy criticised in the Lords

By Neil Trainis

Draft legislation defining the roles of responsible and superintendent pharmacists and clarifying how that plays out in regulation has been criticised in the Lords for failing to take into account the impact workforce and funding pressures are having on community pharmacies.

Proposing an amendment to the Pharmacy (Responsible Pharmacists, Superintendent Pharmacists etc.) Order 2022, Labour peer Lord Hunt said that although he had no objection to its premise, he said he found it “quite extraordinary” that the government is “doing so little to support the sector” through it.

Insisting community pharmacy, which is entering the fourth year of a five-year contractual framework during which funding is frozen, is “undervalued and starved of investment,” Lord Hunt said: “We must recognise that community pharmacy is absolutely hamstrung by workforce pressures and budgetary austerity which threatens the viability of some parts of the sector, and certainly its ability to take on a much greater workload in future.”

He pointed out that the last increase in funding the sector had was in 2014 and highlighted an analysis carried out by the Company Chemists’ Association showing that per capita spending fell by nearly 10.7 per cent between 2014 and 2019.

Lord Hunt said it was “astonishing” that community pharmacies had been able to meet the needs of communities across the country, particularly during the pandemic, “without specific funding".

His comments found support from the Conservative peer Lord Grade who said: “The health or otherwise of independent community pharmacies can be judged by the rate of closures, which has been increasing over the last few years for a number of reasons, not least the overall deal with the NHS.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Brinton said the PSNC “is doing everything asked of it but the system, funding and workforce, is not.”

In response to Lord Hunt, Conservative peer Lord Kamall said community pharmacy employers were “often commercial organisations that have a clear role and responsibility in staff recruitment and retention".

“These issues and the cost of locums cannot really be addressed by the legislation,” he added.

That led Lord Hunt to accuse Lord Kamall of being “a little unsympathetic when it came to workforce issues".

Lord Hunt said: “He seemed to be saying that because community pharmacies are essentially commercial businesses, workforce issues are their responsibility. Given that the great majority of income for community pharmacies comes from their work on NHS dispensing, you cannot divorce the viability of community pharmacies from the funding that the Department of Health makes available. And of course that impacts on the workforce.”

Baroness Brinton challenged Lord Kamall to explain what assessment he had made of community pharmacy closures and whether a plan was in place “to adapt the funding model to prevent any further losses.”

She also asked Lord Kamall if he thought integrated care systems should take into account pharmacy workforce planning and if the Department of Health and Social Care was working on a long-term plan to address the issue.

Insisting there are “more pharmacists than ever before,” Lord Kamall responded: “Data from Health Education England shows that we now have an additional 4,122 pharmacists employed in the community compared with 2017, and the number of registered pharmacists has increased year on year.

“The number of primary care pharmacy education pathway trainees coming from community pharmacy increased by nearly 2,500. Reforms to initial education and training of pharmacists means that pharmacists qualified from 2026 will be qualified to prescribe at the point of registration.”

He also said the government was “supporting a significant expansion” in capacity in primary care through the additional roles reimbursement scheme, allowing primary care networks to employ clinical pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. 

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