The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is in talks with the government over “a series of measures” to support community pharmacies with capacity pressures, including relaxing opening hours requirements, it has said.
In a statement published on 1 December 2022, the PSNC said it had met the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England the previous week to discuss the “critical situation” currently facing the community pharmacy sector around funding and staffing levels.
The negotiator said its priority was to make “strong and urgent representations to government to seek an emergency funding injection into the sector as well as relief from business rates”.
“Many committee members felt it was no longer tenable for pharmacies to keep offering all of the free and non-core services to patients that they would like to,” the statement said.
It added that “examples of measures that some businesses are already taking or are actively considering to both protect patient safety and cut costs include: not answering patient phone calls, or only doing so for a limited amount of time each day; asking patients to book slots for advice, rather than providing this on a walk-in basis; charging for or stopping provision of some unfunded services such as medicines deliveries”.
This comes as the government launched a campaign worth £28.6m over four years to reduce pressures on the NHS “by changing the way people access services”, including directing more people to visit community pharmacies for minor illnesses.
However, the PSNC responded to the media campaign saying it was “reckless … and not fair for patients or pharmacies”.
Meanwhile, government figures published in October 2022 showed that community pharmacies in England have seen a real-terms funding cut of £790m over the past five years, owing to increases in inflation.
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the PSNC, said that the sector was “approaching the cliff edge”.
“If government and the NHS do not take action soon, they could be facing very serious consequences in a matter of months.
“Nobody wants to see a reduction in the patient services that pharmacies can offer, but this is now the reality facing many businesses,” she said.
“Contractors will see us turning up the volume on our vital influencing work over the coming weeks, and alongside that we want to have some really honest and serious conversations with contractors.”
Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “The sad truth is that many pharmacies have already been forced into taking difficult decisions about reducing access to services, to generate operational savings and make ends meet.
“Pharmacy teams have worked really hard to insulate patients from the effects of staff shortages, medicines shortages and immense financial pressures — but there comes a point when contractors have no choice other than to say enough is enough.
“We need urgent intervention by government and the NHS in England to prevent cracks opening up in patient care and eventually growing into a chasm that fundamentally undermines the sector’s capacity to deliver NHS services effectively.”
The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment.