Pharmacy contractors should consider charging for some services that they currently provide for free — such as repeat prescription help, and blood pressure readings — that are not part of their contract, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said.
The negotiating body said the COVID-19 pandemic had produced an increase in this work, and PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes encouraged pharmacies to look into charging for these services on a cost-recovery basis.
In a statement published on 21 August 2020, the PSNC said that contractors have reported “increasingly being asked to pick up primary care work which would normally fall outside of pharmacies’ funded services”, including blood pressure measurements, deliveries and help with re-ordering repeat prescriptions.
Also, it said, pharmacists were increasingly seeing patients with potentially more serious conditions that fall outside the usual support offered by pharmacies.
The PSNC has, Dukes said, made its case to the government on contractors’ costs related to COVID-19 and it was also arguing for further increases in funding.
But he added that, with no further funding yet on the horizon, “I have to advise contractors that given the very treacherous financial situation which many pharmacies are in, it is simply not possible for many to continue to offer extra services free of charge.”
He went on to say that “as a sector we have for many years offered services free of charge or at a tariff that does not even cover our costs, and this simply is not sustainable in the current funding environment.
“Without action to balance costs, the core professional services of pharmacies may all be at risk, and this would have a significant and detrimental impact on patients which must be avoided.”
Bharat Patel, PSNC East regional representative and vice chair, said that prior to the pandemic, some contractors were charging “spasmodically” for non-contract services, but now two factors — affordability and capacity — had forced the matter.
“The sector has lacked funding, but [what] broke the camel’s back was that during the early stages of COVID-19, when everything else was locked down and pharmacies and supermarkets were the only places open, it raised a capacity issue,” he said.
“Especially because GPs were operating behind closed doors. That created a lot of displacement [towards pharmacies].”
Patel said that for routine repeat prescriptions, for example, “if someone asks for more than one delivery a month then I have gone down the route of charging. And most people have adjusted to that very well.
“I don’t begrudge any pharmacist who wants to charge for additional services outside the framework. They have to run the business the best way they see fit. They need to cover their costs.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was aware of the concerns raised in the PSNC’s statement, and that it would be engaging with the pharmacy sector on how to resolve those concerns.