Pharmacy minister Steve Brine has told MPs that less than half the money promised for the Pharmacy Integration Fund (PhIF) in 2016–2018 has been spent, with just three months of the period remaining.
In October 2016, NHS England announced that it would spend £42m between 2016–2018. But Brine has revealed that the estimated spend by the fund so far is around £18.5m.
In a letter sent to the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) in December 2017, Brine described “a significant underspend” of the fund, which he said had happened for “a range of reasons”.
“The programme did not commence until late 2016/2017 and the roll out of IT connections to community pharmacies meant that the full commitment for the NHS Urgent Medicines Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS) was not spent,” he wrote.
“In 2017/2018 there was significant disruption to procurement processes caused by the pre-election period, the election, and appointment of new ministers.
“Given delays to other projects, NHS England postponed the commencement of the care home work stream of the programme, which has meant that this year NHS England has again not spent the full funding it allocated to this programme.”
But the minister insisted that the PhIF’s programme had begun to demonstrate benefits, listing the NUMSAS programme and the provision of pharmacists in GP practices, while “transforming the way the health care service uses the skills of pharmacists”.
He added that the potential of the fund’s work was far larger than the steps that had so far been implemented, and said he remained “excited by, and committed to” the fund’s work.
Figures provided in Brine’s letter to the APPG show that just £216,305 was spent in 2016–2017.
The biggest single actual spend listed for 2017–2018 was £5m on the GP pharmacist programme.
The largest estimated spend in 2017–2018 was £5.1m on the pharmacist education and development programme, and £3m on pharmacy system leadership development work.
Brine wrote to the APPG in November 2017 telling members that he could only confirm that £2m of the promised funding had been spent at that point.
Kevin Barron, chair of the APPG, said: “The full PhIF budget of £42m fell a long way short of making up for the funding cuts imposed on community pharmacy by the Department of Health, but to now find that less than half of it has actually been spent is very worrying.
“What’s more, there is no indication of what the new PhIF budget for the next financial year will be, and I am concerned there may not even be one.
“This is a missed opportunity. The PhIF could have provided a start for new services which we all agree that we wish to see community pharmacy provide. I want to see NHS England and the Department of Health make the most of the unused budget in the next few months and to allocate a new, meaningful PhIF budget for 2018 onwards.”