It will be difficult for community pharmacies to receive the full £75m of funding available through the new pharmacy quality scheme (PQS), pharmacy negotiators have admitted.
Simon Dukes, chief executive at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it would be “very challenging” for pharmacies to have met all the PQS requirements in the short time since they were agreed.
The PQS replaced the previous quality payments scheme as part of the community pharmacy contract, which was agreed in July 2019. However, full details of the scheme were only agreed in September 2019.
Under the scheme, pharmacies must declare that they have met all of the basic ‘gateway’ criteria, along with more complex ‘quality’ criteria before 28 February 2020.
The quality criteria are grouped into six ‘domains’. Pharmacies must achieve all of the criteria in a given domain if they want to receive funding for the work that has been completed under that domain.
The domains cover areas including risk management and safety; prevention, primary care networks; and asthma.
Pharmacists have complained that the system was introduced too late in the financial year and that its design works against them because payment is linked to completing multiple tasks.
Dukes said in a statement that the PQS “is helping to lay the foundations for a shift in focus of community pharmacies from dispensing to services, and … we have already seen some very positive benefits to patients and the NHS through the scheme”.
But he admitted: “There is no doubt that it will be proving very challenging for contractors to deliver the full PQS requirements, alongside the rollout of the community pharmacist consultation service in just five months of the year.”
He added: “Throughout the contract negotiations which began in March 2019, the PSNC’s negotiating team raised concerns about the workload and cashflow impact on pharmacies of agreeing the PQS partway through the financial year”.
“In the end, we accepted a full scheme to secure the £75m of associated funding for the sector in 2019/2020.”
He said there was a “shared commitment” with the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care to give contractors “better notice” of PQS requirements in future.
Olivier Picard who owns four pharmacies in Berkshire, said he could not afford to lose full PQS payments, which would be worth £6,500 for each of his pharmacies.
“The problem is that things have been bundled together so you need to meet all the criteria in one group in order to receive any payment,” he said.
“If you fail to complete one of the criteria then you get nothing — even if you have met the others required.
“Under the old system, even if you didn’t manage to meet all the criteria you’d still get paid for those that you did meet.”
Reena Barai, who runs a pharmacy in Sutton, Surrey, said: “I am spending about three hours a night, every night, just trying to bring it all together. It’s all too much in too little time and it comes at a time of the year which is difficult anyway.”
She acknowledged that there was no statutory obligation to claim money under any of the six domains but admitted: “We need to able to earn the money through the PQS because it replaces the money that we have lost previously through the spending cuts. I feel like every single independent contractor feels the same.”
The Company Chemists’ Association, the trade association for large pharmacy operators in England, Scotland and Wales, said the PQS requirements were “creating significant workloads for all contractors”.