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Pharmacy closures will leave us with ‘depersonalised, dehumanised’ services

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Pharmacy closures will leave us with ‘depersonalised, dehumanised’ services

By Neil Trainis

Professor David Taylor from University College London’s school of pharmacy last night warned the NHS may end up providing a “depersonalised, dehumanised service” for patients in the long-term because more community pharmacies struggling with funding cuts and inflationary pressures could be forced to close.

Professor Taylor (pictured), who recently co-produced a report with the health economist Panos Kavanos claiming thousands of pharmacies could shut because of high inflation and the effects of multi-year frozen funding, told the National Pharmacy Association's virtual conference that around one in 20 pharmacies had closed in England over the last two years and that was set to increase.

He said if pharmacies continued to go out of business, the public would struggle to get their medicines, their access to clinical services will be “blocked” and personalised care will be jeopardised.

“Obviously, if you’ve got a few thousand unwanted closures, the integrity of the community pharmacy network could be undermined so that people may experience disruptions with their medicines supply,” professor Taylor said.

“Clearly, NHS professionals will try and stop that but there are serious consequences about opening up new sorts of access to clinical services. What I fear is that will be blocked and we’ll get a stripped-down, if you like dehumanised, depersonalised system … that doesn’t provide the personal care and extended services that we want to provide in future and which will help the NHS, GPs who are under pressure, A&E which is under pressure, but more than that, helping us all to stay healthy.

“That’s what we’re playing for, not just the short-term disruption to supply but the long term depersonalised, dehumanised service. People have already in the last 20 or 30 years lost the GP they know. Most people know their practice but they don’t know their doctor.

“If we go really well, we could have a situation where pharmacy provides extended services but you also have that personal care. That’s what’s at risk.”

Professor Taylor warned pharmacies that were “doing the most useful jobs in poorer areas” but were “perhaps not so commercially focused” were most vulnerable to the economic pressures blighting the community pharmacy network.

When it was suggested his report made for bleak reading, he said: “It’s bleak in as much as to say it’s true. If you compare with 2015, community pharmacy’s global sum, the sum from which fees are paid, is about 25 per cent down in real terms even after you adjust for inflation.

“And if you look at overall NHS funding, the NHS has been better treated than other parts of the public service. Its funding has gone up a bit but in pharmacy that’s not true. It’s about a third less of NHS funds in England are going to community pharmacy now than they were in 2015.”

Warning that “harmful” pharmacy closures will “undermine NHS care if we’re not careful,” professor Taylor said: “The situation is a bit better in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, but even there, there are pressures associated with inflation, new tasks, there was the whole Covid pandemic which of course enabled pharmacy to show its worth to the public and the public to show its appreciation.

“But at the same time, that’s going away and we’re left with this reality in England especially (where) there’s been inflation and cuts in funding.”

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