Of £26m budgeted for the Pharmacy Integrated Fund (PhIF) in 2020/2021, £4m was spent on pharmacy projects, figures obtained by The Pharmaceutical Journal have shown.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by The Pharmaceutical Journal, NHS England also revealed that, in 2021/2022, the budgeted amount was £25m, but £7m was used for projects within the fund.
The prospective budget for PhIF for 2024/2025 is £27m, NHS England has confirmed.
In its FOI response, NHS England also said that, in 2022/2023, the budgeted amount for the PhIF was £32m, but it could not confirm how much of the budget had been spent on pharmacy projects because it had yet to be audited.
This is the sixth year NHS England has admitted to underspending the fund, which was started in 2016. At the time, NHS England said the fund would support the development of clinical pharmacy practice in a wider range of primary care settings, resulting in more integrated and effective NHS primary care for patients.
A previous FOI request submitted to NHS England by The Pharmaceutical Journal in 2021 revealed the budgeted amount for the PhIF in 2019/2020 was £40m, with £20.9m used for pharmacy projects within the fund.
In June 2018, Steve Brine, then pharmacy minister, revealed that £21.8m in 2017/2018 “was appropriated from the PhIF to support other parts of the NHS”, and that, in 2016/2017, £1.8m of PhIF money was spent on parts of the health service other than pharmacy.
In an NHS England briefing published at the launch of the PhIF in 2016, NHS England said the fund would rise to £100m by 2020/2021, adding that “£300m will be distributed by the fund” by the end of 2020/2021.
Commenting on the most recent figures, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “At a time when the community pharmacy sector is going through its worst period because of significant shortfall in its core funding, to now know that the PhIF funding pot is dramatically lower is very concerning.
“Pharmacy teams have consistently gone over and beyond for the NHS and we have always said that, if funded appropriately, we can be a great support in reducing the pressures elsewhere in the NHS and deliver a range of clinical services.
“But the fact that the PhIF has not increased is yet another unfulfilled promise by NHS decision makers.”
Responding to the PhIF figures, James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said: “While adhering to strict NHS finance rules, project delays and in-year underspends reflect bureaucratic constraints, hindering the timely growth of pharmacy and impacting patient outcomes.”
Davies said that the PhIF has led to “significant changes across the health service in England”, such as the hypertension case-finding service and NHS pharmacy contraception service, and had been “instrumental in advancing the integrating pharmacy and medicines optimisation work, a precursor to integrated care board chief pharmacists”.
He added: “The fund played a key role in advancing the RPS vision [for pharmacy] in England in 2023, supporting primary care roles for pharmacists and technicians, and funding thousands of educational places for community pharmacy and independent prescribing.
“The fund supported the creation of community pharmacy clinical leads and will be crucial in the 2024/2025 roll out of the community pharmacy Independent Prescribing Pathfinder programme, transforming clinical services.”
A spokesperson for NHS England told The Pharmaceutical Journal that, each year, the NHS England planning cycle process was followed to identify and agree a budget for the PhIF, with oversight from the NHS England Pharmacy Oversight Group and clinical advice provided by the NHS England Pharmacy Integration Fund Clinical Reference Group.
They added that, since the agreement of the community pharmacy contractual framework for 2019/2020 to 2023/2024, the PhIF has followed a plan to test and introduce community pharmacy clinical services, as set out in a letter to NHS directors of commissioning, published in July 2019.