Plans to cut 6% from community pharmacy funding in England will not be implemented in October 2016 as originally planned, says David Mowat, minister for community health and care.
Announcing the news at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) annual conference via a pre-recorded video on 5 September 2016, Mowat said: “I think it’s right that we spend the time, particularly for me as an incoming minister, to make sure that we’re making the correct decision and that what we do is going to be right for you, for the NHS and for the public.”
The minister, who has responsibility for pharmacy as part of his brief, did not indicate when the next steps around the funding cuts will be announced.
Sandra Gidley, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, says she is “heartened” by the news that the government will take a second look at the proposed cuts. “We are pressing for the minister to meet with RPS England ahead of any final announcements. We had an excellent relationship with his predecessor, Alistair Burt, and hope that our forthcoming relationship with David Mowat will be as constructive.”
In his speech, Mowat praised the recently published ‘Community pharmacy forward view’, developed by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), Pharmacy Voice and the RPS English Pharmacy Board, and recognised the role pharmacists can have in areas such as long-term conditions. “Your profession rightly recognises that it needs to go further away from just doing dispensing into the service area,” he said. “The quality of that document does testimony to the contribution your profession can make.”
The minister closed with a comment around the decriminalisation of inadvertent dispensing errors, acknowledging the importance of this issue to pharmacists. He said he hoped more news on this would be available in the short term.
“I am very keen to continue to work closely with the pharmacy profession. You have a major contribution to make and primary care is the future of the health service and I look forward to working with you on that,” he concluded.
Pharmacy organisations welcomed the minister’s announcement that implementation of the proposed funding cuts would not happen in October.
Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the PSNC, says the decision will be a relief to contractors. “It is very encouraging that the minister is listening to us and appears to recognise the contribution that we can make.” However, she adds the profession still has a “case to make” for the future of community pharmacy.
“This week we will launch the results of a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has monetised the social value of 12 community pharmacy services. This will add to the weight of evidence that we already have for the positive impact that pharmacy can and does have on health and social care,” she says.
Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, says the delay is a recognition of the depth of public concern about the proposals. “Both the government and the sector now have a unique opportunity to start this process anew.”
Ian Strachan, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, which organised a petition against the proposed cuts and presented over 2 million signatures to the government, says the minister’s committment to review the policy proposals is important. “David Mowat should be congratulated for taking our advice to pause and reflect, and not simply wave through the discredited policy proposals that he inherited.”
But Strachan warns that officials in many parts of the government “still needs to be won over to the idea that community pharmacy is a solution to some of the NHS’s most pressing challenges”.
“Without that, today’s announcement will be just a stay of execution,” he adds.
Labour MP Michael Dugher, who secured a parliamentary debate on the community pharmacy cuts in May 2016, says: “It is welcome news that the government appears at last to be listening to all of us who’ve been campaigning against the arbitrary cut to community pharmacies.”
The delay must lead to a “fundamental rethink” to protect community pharmacies, he adds.
The RPS annual conference is taking place in Birmingham from 4 to 5 September 2016.