The internet-based Pharmacy2U has published a briefing paper for MPs and policymakers claiming that online dispensing could save the NHS up to £400m a year or £1.2bn over three years.
The company said the document, which makes the case for expanding online dispensing, was released to influence the government’s long-term funding settlement for the NHS, which is in the process of being decided.
But the paper has been condemned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) as nothing more than a “business proposition”, which threatens the network of bricks and mortar community pharmacies.
The paper, ‘Opportunities for innovation: developing a long-term plan for pharmacy’, says the potential savings from online dispensing would provide “much needed efficiencies within the already-squeezed pharmacy sector which could potentially be reinvested in new and innovative services which support community pharmacies to enhance their clinical offer”.
It calls for a reduction in the dispensing reimbursement traditional high street pharmacies are paid under the national community pharmacy contract, with the money diverted instead into frontline pharmacy-delivered patient services.
In the document, Pharmacy2U calculates the potential savings of online dispensing by looking at the remuneration it receives from dispensing 300,000 items a month compared to the average high street pharmacy which, it claims, dispenses only 7,000 items a month.
The paper states: “To date, estimated savings from online prescriptions stand at nearly £600m. Based on the remuneration rates … Pharmacy2U estimates that up to £400m could be saved each year: this means potential total savings of up to £1.2bn over the next three years.”
In a statement, Pharmacy2U said: “We’re eager to help inform policymakers and others about the innovative ways in which community pharmacy can be refreshed to maximise the benefit of this extra funding for patients.”
But Sandra Gidley, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “The timing of this document is very cynical when they know that health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt is talking about NHS funding and [the report] has talked about the amount of money that could be available for other things.
“You can’t just take away the supply part of the business and cream off the earnings and say it will save money without it having a severe impact on the community pharmacy network.”
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is currently investigating a Pharmacy2U TV advertisement, which claimed that £300m a year could be saved in NHS prescribing costs if patients managed their repeat prescriptions online.
The National Pharmacy Association, which lodged a complaint about the advertisement, said that it “did not recognise the [savings] figures” reported in the Pharmacy2U briefing paper.
The ASA said that it had received 25 complaints about the advert as of 14 June 2018.
A spokesperson said: “We are currently formally investigating the advertisement and we will be publishing our findings in due course.”