Community pharmacy contractors in England may need to “pause” provision of advanced services to manage capacity and demand, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.
In an interview on 23 March 2022, Janet Morrison warned that without an uplift in funding before the end of the ‘Community pharmacy contractual framework: 2019 to 2024’, the sector will be “in a pretty tough place”.
Morrison joined the PSNC on 1 March 2022, days after the negotiators began discussions with the government about pharmacy provision during the fourth year of the five-year contract, which promised flat funding until 2023/2024.
Without additional funding, Morrison said community pharmacy is “going to be in a bit of a bad place”.
“We’re going to start seeing the results of the funding and capacity pressures. So that might be closures, it might be more cuts in opening hours and it might be temporary closures because they just can’t get a pharmacist,” she said.
The PSNC’s most recent calls for more funding were met with a “flat rejection” from the Treasury during negotiations over year three of the contract.
Morrison added that “already contractors are making choices about ‘do I sign up for all the advanced services now or am I taking a pause to embed what we’ve got?’. So, people will be thinking about pausing that. And some may even think about pausing doing the advanced services at all”.
When asked whether the PSNC would advise contractors to stop offering advanced services, she said: “I can’t say where we’re going to end up.”
“But what I would say is, from what I’ve heard, through the committee and from contractors, there are a lot of people who are saying ‘we can’t take anything more on’.
“You could put the most attractive service on the table for us that would be scalable and make sense for the long term, but we haven’t got the capacity to respond.
“I visited a pharmacy last week, which said we want to do those things … but we’ve got to take a pause, because our staff are burnt out. We’re working harder and longer and we’ve got to take a pause before we can take on anything new,” she continued.
“So, I think it could well be that people will just say, I can’t take anything more right now. That could well be a response from [the] PSNC because of what we’re being told.”
Advanced services include the ‘NHS community pharmacist consultation service’, ‘NHS community pharmacy blood pressure check service’ and the ‘NHS community pharmacy smoking cessation service’.
While negotiations between the PSNC and the government remain confidential, the Company Chemists’ Association recommended an uplift of £656m in funding for community pharmacy services annually to create a return on investment of at least £1.9bn by “delivering more clinical services to patients and adding much-needed capacity to general practice”.
Morrison said that, in negotiations, the PSNC is “demonstrating the value of what the sector has delivered” during the pandemic and is raising the issue of “funding pressures and capacity pressures on the sector”.
The chief executive also told The Pharmaceutical Journal that closure rates in 2021 were “masked” by funding to cover costs associated with COVID-19, and by a larger medicines margin that has yet to be recouped by the government.
The Pharmaceutical Journal previously revealed that the net number of pharmacy closures halved in 2021 compared with 2020.
Meanwhile, in October 2021, Morrison’s predecessor Simon Dukes advised pharmacies to look into offering private services, warning that the government still believes “it can make cuts” from the sector.