Prime minister vows to reimburse community pharmacy’s COVID-19 costs ‘as soon as possible’

Boris Johnson told The Pharmaceutical Journal that community pharmacies “play a vital role in helping us to fight the pandemic” and that he does not want to see any closures.
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Community pharmacies should be reimbursed for their additional costs during the COVID-19 pandemic “as soon as possible”, the prime minister has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Boris Johnson also said that he does not want to see any pharmacies close as they “play a vital role” in fighting the pandemic.

The prime minister’s comments came in answer to a question posed by Nigel Praities, executive editor at The Pharmaceutical Journal, at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on 10 February 2021.

The question asked for a timeframe of when the government plans to reimburse pharmacies for their additional costs during the pandemic, and how many pharmacies it is happy to see close before it does anything about it.

“I don’t want to see any pharmacies close. I think community pharmacies provide an absolutely outstanding resource for our country and its healthcare needs,” Johnson said, adding that he was “particularly grateful to pharmacies now for what they’re doing as part of the vaccine effort”.

“It’s a very good environment to get a lot of good things done to protect the public, so on your point about reimbursement, I will want to make sure they are reimbursed as soon as possible,” he continued.

“They play a vital role in helping us to fight the pandemic and many, many other public health needs.”

His comments come after an investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed in January 2021 that four pharmacies closed each week in 2020 because of financial pressures exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government had responded to initial requests for more money in 2020 by providing a £370m loan to the pharmacy sector, which the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) says should now be written off.

PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes said the negotiator had held funding discussions with ministers on the day that Johnson made his comments.

“It was encouraging to hear the prime minister committing to reimbursing community pharmacies’ COVID-19 costs last night,” he said.

“The negotiations on COVID-19 costs are ongoing, and at the heart of them is the question of how great those costs are: this is the difficult discussion that we are having with HM Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care. We’ll continue to highlight ministers’ support for the sector in our discussions, but the very positive words of politicians must now lead to the funding outcomes that we need.”

Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said the prime minister’s “recognition of funding issues and the need for community pharmacies to be fully reimbursed for the additional costs they’ve faced throughout the pandemic is very pleasing to hear”.

“We now want the Government to follow this up with a pledge of new money that many community pharmacies need access to as soon as possible,” she added.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said she was “disappointed that the issue regarding the £370m loan should ever have got so far up the chain as to have reached the PM, but hopefully now that it has come to his notice we hope that those responsible will come to a decision and that it will be one which reflects the trust and commitment which pharmacies have made during the last year”.

Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, added that the prime minister “must now be held to this promise, because the government and NHS England have dithered for too long over this matter”.

“It’s high time they did the right thing by our hardworking pharmacy teams,” he added. “The prime minister says he doesn’t want any pharmacies to close. So is he now prepared to bang heads together at the Treasury and NHS England to stop the tragic decline of the network?”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that funding negotiations were ongoing.

“During this unprecedented pandemic, £370m has been made available in advance payments to support pharmacies in maintaining medicine supplies and providing health advice,” they said.

“Additional funding, for costs incurred during the pandemic, is being discussed with the sector.” 

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, February 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.20208791