Alistair Burt, minister of state for community and social care, says that while the proposed 6% cuts to community pharmacy funding are unlikely to be reversed, they do not signal the end of community pharmacy “as we know it”.
He made the comments at a King’s Fund event on 24 February 2016, held in partnership with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) at the King’s Fund headquarters in central London, to discuss the role of pharmacy in caring for vulnerable groups.
“Community pharmacy is a core part of NHS primary care and because it is a core service it also has an important contribution to [make to] help the NHS with its efficiency saving,” he said. However, the minister also emphasised that “the future of pharmacy will not be defined by this spending round, the future of pharmacy is around what [pharmacists are] doing”.
When questioned about the purpose of the government’s consultation if the cuts were still going ahead, he defended the process. “[The] consultation is not useless, the negotiations are designed to [work out], ‘how can we do this best and preserve the best services that are out there on the high street’”, he said.
The minister acknowledged the “uncertainty and concern” surrounding the proposals, but said the government wants to retain the pharmacy services that are cherished in the community.
“We don’t plan to close pharmacies, our aim is to make sure that those community pharmacies on which people depend, continue to thrive,” he said.
Burt also revealed that an impact assessment is being carried out and tested against public sector equality duty, a requirement of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and will be published in due course.
“We have detailed negotiations going on,” he said, “but we are hearing from others and engaging [with] patient groups to get their views on things as it develops.”
The event recognised the RPS report on the role of pharmacists in care homes, ‘The Right Medicine — Improving Care in Care Homes’ published on 23 February 2016, to which Burt said: “I fully back the publication, not just for the savings that could be made or the fact that it is a smarter way of working, but because it emphasises the integral role of pharmacists.”
“This is the type of proactive clinical pharmacy that gets me passionate about the pharmacy profession,” he added.
When referring to the pharmacy integration fund, which is part of the government’s proposals for community pharmacy, Burt highlighted that in its first year the £20m pot will be focused on supporting deployment of clinical pharmacists in range of community care settings, including care homes and developing an IT infrastructure to enable community pharmacy and rest of primary care to communicate with one another.
“There are big opportunities for pharmacists and their teams to play an even greater role in helping people with long-term conditions and making sure patients get the best from their medicines.”