The impact of the government slashing more than £320m from the community pharmacy budget in England was spelt out to a High Court judge on 21 March 2017, as the legal challenge to the cuts began.
Representing the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), which is behind the judicial review, Alison Foster QC told the judge on the first day of the hearing: “We are talking, without drama, of livelihoods being at stake.”
She told Mr Justice Collins: “The PSNC is very, very concerned that this does not go ahead in its current form.”
Describing the cuts as unprecedented, Foster added that they had also taken effect “in an extraordinarily short timescale”, giving pharmacists no fair chance to react.
The cuts amounted to an “irreversible step towards complete reshaping of the sector without proper debate or analysis”.
“This is a coarse attempt to reshape at the expense of livelihoods,” she said.
Foster also told the judge that the PSNC acknowledges the need to reduce NHS budgets and its complaints “are not a rail against cuts”, but added that the cuts imposed by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt for 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 were introduced “without even basic fairness” or any regard to pharmacists’ livelihoods.
“There has been serious consultation unfairness and the process followed is unlawful,” Foster said, adding that given the huge consequences of the cuts for thousands of small businesses, the cuts should only have followed a model of negotiation.
She added that Hunt owes a duty to deal with the issue “with heightened fairness, but did not do so with even basic fairness”.
The judicial review, which is being challenged by the government and is expected to last three days, has been brought by the PSNC with the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) as an interested party.
The PSNC’s case hinges on its claims that the government did not go through the proper process before deciding to cut the community pharmacy budget.
The NPA is due to argue that the government failed in its duty to consider the needs of vulnerable people, communities and groups in society which have protected characteristics.
The hearing continues.