Pharmacies applying for financial support to protect them from the impact of the community pharmacy funding cuts in England have been told they will have to wait for a decision until after the general election, according to a lawyer who is representing them and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).
Lawyer Andrea James said that on 27 April 2017 she was told by NHS England that applications from community pharmacies for inclusion in the Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS) have been put on hold until after the general election on 8 June 2017. Pharmacies which qualify for the scheme – which is dependent on the number of prescription items dispensed and the pharmacy’s proximity to its nearest pharmacy neighbour – will receive a monthly payment.
The applications were also being shelved until the decision of the High Court judicial review, which challenged the cuts, was known, according to James.
James has contacted NHS England for clarification but has not yet received a response.
“I hope that it is a mistake or a misunderstanding because the purpose of PhAS is to prevent pharmacies from closing and those pharmacies which need to be supported can’t hang about for a couple of months,” says James.
“NHS England says it is waiting for the outcome of the judicial review, but applications on PhAS review applications were made in the run up to and during the review, in which I was also acting.
“The election reason given by NHS England is more difficult perhaps, but if they had made all [PhAS] decisions within the six weeks target, then PhAS would not have been hit by the election,” she adds.
James said she was acting on behalf of “a number” of community pharmacies.
Community pharmacies have also raised the issue with the NPA, the trade association for independent community pharmacies in the UK.
Source: National Pharmacy Association
Stephen Fishwick, NPA’s head of communications, has confirmed that some members had been told that their applications for PhAS have been delayed until after the election.
“We have written to NHS England to ask them to clarify the position, because it seems absurd that operational decisions relating to PhAS applications should be subject to pre-election purdah,” he says.
“It is our understanding that policy decisions, not operational processes at the level of individual businesses, are subject to the Cabinet Office guidance for the civil service during the pre-election period.”
“We hope it is simply a clerical error that can be easily rectified. If it is instead a policy decision by NHS England, we will of course take the matter further,” he adds.
On 3 May 2017, a spokesperson from NHS England confirmed that there will indeed be a delay for pharmacies waiting to hear whether their PhAS applications have been successful. “We are continuing to consider applications to the Pharmacy Access Scheme. However, we will not be making announcements about the progress of applications until after the general election.”
The spokesperson added that the Pharmacy Access Scheme National Review Panel will continue to meet regularly to consider applications until all the applications have been reviewed, but, as an arm’s-length body of government, they are unable to make an announcement about funding decisions in the lead up to an election.
- This article was amended on 3 May 2017 to add a response from NHS England.