Letters from 39 MPs and peers have urged health secretary Steve Barclay to consider a range of measures to “stabilise” community pharmacies, including funding a ‘Pharmacy First’ service in England.
As part of a coordinated approach, overseen by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), MPs and members of the House of Lords wrote to Barclay on 21 February 2023 to raise their concerns about “the unprecedented pressures facing the community pharmacy sector in England”.
“We fear that if these pressures are left unaddressed, we could see a large number of unplanned and permanent pharmacy closures in the near future,” the letters say, warning that this could “endanger some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
In January 2023, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that community pharmacies in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to close, compared with other areas — despite providing 50% more NHS services to local people.
The closures are the result of cost pressures on pharmacy contractors, with official figures showing that community pharmacy has lost £1.6bn in funding, in real-terms, since 2015/2016. The National Pharmacy Association warned in September 2022 of a “looming pharmacy collapse” without additional government funding.
To prevent further closures, the letters call on Barclay to consider providing pharmacies with “short-term funding to stabilise the community pharmacy sector”, and to work with community pharmacy “to create a fair and fit for purpose future funding model that … properly funds pharmacies for what they do”.
The letters also call for “a fairly funded Pharmacy First service”.
“With adequate funding, we believe this could alleviate wider pressures in the primary care system and the NHS,” the letters say.
The idea of setting up a national minor ailments service, similar to Scotland’s NHS Pharmacy First service, was first floated by former health secretary Sajid Javid in October 2021.
However, plans for a similar service in England appeared to have been shelved, following the announcement of an agreement on the final two years of the current community pharmacy contract in September 2022.
On 31 January 2023, Barclay told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee that there is “strong agreement” between the government and the PSNC on setting up a ‘Pharmacy First’ service but added that the government needs “to look at the financing of that”.
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the PSNC, said: “Parliamentarians are right to be worried about the health of community pharmacies [which] are facing significant challenges and are struggling to keep their doors open.
“We are continuing to press for urgent action by keeping the pressure up, both across Parliament and through the national media.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that “community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system”.
“Pharmacies already provide a range of clinical services and, over the next 18 months, we will be increasing the support pharmacists can provide, including taking referrals from A&E, managing oral contraception needs and supporting patients who have been newly prescribed antidepressants,” they said, adding that Barclay would respond to the letters in due course.