The NPA have issued the following statement:
High Court Judge “regrets” funding cuts, in watershed moment for local pharmacies
18 May 2017A High Court judge has “with some regret” concluded that he cannot overturn the Government’s decision to impose massive cuts on pharmacy services in England.Mr Justice Collins predicted hardship in deprived areas as a result of the cuts and said that criticism of the Department of Health’s “less than satisfactory approach” is justified. He dismissed the Government’s argument that the legal obligation to tackle health inequalities is a lesser duty than the public sector equality duty, which deals with discrimination.
The Judgement also makes it clear that the unprecedented level of cuts was dictated by the Treasury’s need to save money, not by healthcare considerations. It states that incorrect financial assumptions were included in a letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Prime Minister in August 2016 – correspondence which cleared the way for the cuts to be approved at the highest level.
He also pointed to the “real risk” of putting more pressure on GPs because of cuts to pharmacy services. Ministers had earlier claimed that the cuts could be achieved without impacting patient care.
Significantly, the judgment places on the legal record the importance of pharmacies’ role in primary care, beyond dispensing. Recent budget calculations by civil servants have overlooked these wider benefits, and this error must not be repeated.
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) described the verdict as a watershed moment that exposes the flaws in current policy and opens the way for talks about a radically different approach – which sees pharmacies as a solution to longstanding NHS pressures, in deprived neighbourhoods and elsewhere.
Commenting on the verdict, NPA Chairman Ian Strachan said:
“The Judge said the decision to make cuts was lawful, not that it was wise. On the contrary, he comprehensively debunked the risible idea that the cuts are for the good of patients.
“Overall, this is a compelling judgement that recognises the important role of community pharmacy in primary care, which some Ministers and officials have sought to diminish. We have also established an important legal principle, namely that the Health Secretary must now have serious regard to the duty to reduce health inequalities when making decisions about the NHS. This judgement sets important standards in terms of our sector and far beyond.”
“This is a watershed moment for pharmacy policy. The flaws in the current Treasury-led approach have been exposed. We can now focus on changing the direction of policy going forward, and put the matter of the current funding settlement in its proper context. The new Government returned after the general election should seize this opportunity to change course.
“It is a shame that we had to go all the way to the high court to bring this matter to a head, considering the widespread public support for the front line services provided by local pharmacies.
“What is important now is to enter into constructive discussions about a positive way forward for the sector, patients, and the NHS. We want to engage with officials on implementation of a programme for change and improvement which builds on the strengths of our sector rather than seeks to dismantle it. By working together, we can make the pharmacy sector and the health system overall more efficient, whilst ensuring that no patient is left behind.
“The community pharmacy network is a part of the health service that can truly be said to serve all communities, including the most vulnerable neighbourhoods. In mounting this legal challenge, we have seen it as our public duty to try to preserve access to healthcare for those in most need.”
“The Court proceedings exposed a disturbing lack of understanding at the very heart of government about the role which community pharmacy plays in the NHS. The NPA is grateful for the Judge’s recognition of the vital, wide-ranging services delivered by pharmacies, including in some of the most deprived communities in the country. A new legal principle has been established, which will help protect those vulnerable communities. This means that the legacy of this case will influence DH and other decision makers for years to come.”