Community pharmacy must rebuild vital relations with the government and general practice and fight for its very survival, a conference has heard.
Speaking at the Pharmacy Show in Birmingham, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), Sue Sharpe, said the sector’s future was facing its greatest ever challenge and urged community pharmacists to pull together.
She warned that the immediate future was looking “very grim” and there was even a risk of further cuts.
“We have a battle for survival of community pharmacy as we know it and it’s up to us to fight it together,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough few years and we are going to have to persuade the NHS that they can deliver more care and value by investing in community pharmacy.”
Sharpe stressed that the past two years had seen the worst ever relationship between community pharmacy and the NHS.
This, she said, was the result of, not only the funding cuts, but also the “false view” that warehouse supply was a cheaper and adequate substitute for community pharmacy services. Reductions in Category M prices to recover an over-delivery of margin in previous years and unpredicted sudden price rises of generic drugs had not helped, she added.
“We must recognise the cash flow challenge and the value challenge and all of us must work together to make the unique contribution that pharmacy plays in people’s lives visible and understood at local level,” she said.
One of the main ways to do that, she added, was to have more contact with GPs.
“It is clear as a bell that general practice should be demanding that community pharmacy take off their workload. It is folly to think of general practice as our enemies. We must think of them as people who are facing a massive resource struggle and we must try to ensure that we create the relationship that allows general practice to see our value,” she said.
Sharpe praised new pharmacy minister Steve Brine for the “empathy and understanding” he had demonstrated in recent speeches and for his apparent recognition that pharmacy services needed to be better utilised.
“We have a real opportunity here to try to build on that good, sound, positive opening and try to get the relationship [with government] back,” she added.
She said issues including the decision to wipe out establishment payments, which have provided annual payments to pharmacies dispensing more than 2,500 items per month, over the next few years, and the move towards commoditisation of pharmacy services must be challenged through proper dialogue and a willingness to tackle the issues that could damage the sector, adding that the PSNC was committed to taking this forward.
“The best outcome and the outcome that we must all hope for is that we rebuild positive constructive relationships to get [the government] to understand that pharmacy is a sector they need to work with to deliver care,” she concluded.