‘Bah humbug’ from the Department of Health and NHS England

According to the Department of Health and NHS England in their letter about community pharmacy contractual funding for 2016–2017: “There is real potential for far greater use of community pharmacy and pharmacists.” So clearly the NHS has finally appreciated the oft-discussed “untapped potential” of community pharmacies.

But wait, it gets better still: “We need a clinically focused community pharmacy service that is better integrated with primary care.” Amen to that. What a Christmas present for the pharmacy profession. And there is even going to be a pharmacy integration fund to bring it all about.

But before you get too intoxicated with the Christmas spirit, all this transformation is to be brought about by engineering a 6% slash in our funding. Announced at the same time is a 25% rise in funding for GPs. So its Scrooge for pharmacy and the Christmas fairy for our medical colleagues.

We keep being told that there is no money in the NHS, but the truth is that NHS funding is at a record high, with a promise of an additional £6bn this year alone. Where the NHS is desperately short of GPs and nurses, pharmacies and pharmacists are in good supply and, as the NHS has apparently recognised, we are ready, willing and able to take up the slack. What possible explanation (other than blind prejudice) can there be to reduce pharmacy funding at this juncture? It will only hasten the “Amazonisation” of community pharmacy.

In terms of the NHS budget, the saving at community pharmacy’s expense is so tiny it is an irrelevance. By contrast, a small investment would have enabled a national common ailment service. That alone would have saved £1.1bn, saved 57 million GP appointments, helped to reduce inappropriate antimicrobial prescribing and prevented countless unnecessary visits to accident and emergency departments. Adding healthy living pharmacies to the national pharmacy contract would deliver the pace and scale to keep people healthier for longer, which is a key plank of the NHS ‘Five year forward view’ strategy. But instead we can look forward to years of financial attrition, stifled innovation and survival of the cheapest. Inevitably, independent pharmacies will be worst hit and the outcome will be inconsistent and indiscriminate despite the rhetoric about a planned cull.

I have suggested previously that pharmacy can save the NHS (
Pharmaceutical Journal 2015;294:597
) and that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has a key role to play. Unlike the Royal College of General Practitioners, the RPS has not, to date, made the case for increasing funding for its own profession.

If there is anything positive to take from this ugly scenario it is that Pharmaceutical Service Negotiating Committee – which is an incompetent and intransigent organisation that appears out of touch with pharmacists, pharmacy contractors, patients and the NHS alike –‘’ will finally be coerced into working with the RPS, patient groups and others to deliver some kind of future.

Graham Phillips

St Albans,


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, January 2016, Vol 296, No 7885;296(7885):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20200355

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