Pharmacy Voice, which represents three community pharmacy associations, has spelt out its opposition to UK government proposals to slash 6% from the national settlement for England and have described ministers’ plans for the future of the profession as “ill-conceived and inconsistent”.
The organisation says the controversial proposals, first revealed in December 2015, are driven by Treasury demands rather than what the Department of Health believes would be an efficient and safe pharmacy service.
In its response to the proposals, Pharmacy Voice adds that pharmacists are “still reeling from the shock” of the 6% cuts and are “frustrated” by the mixed messages coming from the government, which seems keen to develop clinical pharmacy services while imposing “radical and uncompromising” funding cuts.
“The proposals for delivering efficiencies… will not provide any meaningful savings prior to the imposition of the cuts,” says Claire Ward, chair of Pharmacy Voice. “So it is hardly surprising that pharmacies across the country are speaking out against these rash cuts, being imposed with little notice and with scant regard for the consequences.”
The response reiterates the potential of community pharmacy in helping to meet the government’s vision of a more integrated NHS. The profession, it suggests, can take pressure off squeezed parts of the system including general practice, hospital discharge processes and out-of-hours emergency care.
The organisation recommends that a national Pharmacy First minor ailments service should be established; community pharmacy could also take responsibility for all medicines management services outside of hospital, such as supporting GPs and care homes and at points of care transfer.
Referrals to other parts of the health and care system could also become routine for pharmacy, which has a key role to play in new integrated health and care models that are being developed, according to the response document.
Pharmacy Voice — which represents the views of the Company Chemists’ Association, the National Pharmacy Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies — also spells out the impact on services of a 6% cut in its response.
“[The] proposals… have caused significant alarm and anger among our members and across the sector as a whole,” it says. “This is not simply a knee-jerk response to the imposition of funding cuts. It reflects concern that the government does not recognise what community pharmacy teams already do everyday in support of patients and the public.”
Proposed cuts of 6% at such short notice means pharmacies will have to cut staff and reduce opening hours, it warns.
The organisation refutes the claim made by the government that community pharmacy services are “lagging behind” other parts of the health service in terms of online access to services and collection and delivery options. It warns that online access has the potential to increase “prescription direction”, which reduces patient choice.
The government’s confidence in the economic benefits of a ‘hub-and-spoke’ dispensing model is misplaced and, according to Pharmacy Voice, there is “significant” concern about moving to “industrial scale centralised dispensing”.
It also opposes any move towards introducing a “blanket approach to prescription duration”, which it warns would only increase the risk of medicines waste.
Pharmacy Voice also makes it clear that the government plans for a pharmacy access scheme should not be funded with money from the national contract, and while community pharmacists support the idea of a pharmacy integration fund, that pot of money should not be used to pay for projects that are funded through alternative funding streams.