The letter is signed by the Director General, Innovation, Growth and Technology, Department of Health and the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer.
The decision to publish the letter is unprecedented, and in stark contrast to the secrecy that the NHS has always insisted on for negotiations in the past. Read the Department of Health/ NHS England letter.
Sue Sharpe (PSNC) has made the following Statement
At a time when primary care and urgent care services are struggling to manage demand, this is a profoundly damaging move. It will deliver a destructive blow to the support community pharmacies can offer to patients and the public. Community pharmacies provide vital healthcare and advice which reduces the burden on GPs and urgent care services and helps the NHS to cope with winter pressures.
The letter speaks of the potential for far greater use of community pharmacy and pharmacists in prevention of ill health, support for healthy living and minor ailments, but almost inevitably the impact of the cuts will force pharmacies to reduce staffing levels and direct more people to GP or urgent care. We remain staggered at the decision by the NHS to abandon negotiations on a national minor ailments service over the summer, a move entirely inconsistent with exploiting the potential identified in the letter.
Pharmacy owners, whose funding has been under pressure and who have been absorbing efficiencies over the last few years, will be incredulous that the Government:
“Believes those efficiencies can be made within community pharmacy without compromising the quality of services or patient access to them.”
There are many excellent business owners in the pharmacy sector, who are incentivised to run their businesses as efficiently and effectively as possible, meeting the needs of their patients and providing support to them, whilst delivering massive savings to the NHS by reducing drug costs. They will be sceptical about the expertise within the Government that underpins its assertion.
For some months PSNC has been awaiting news from the NHS and we had expected that it would not be positive. In a speech at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Annual Conference in September the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer set out his view that large centralised dispensing facilities could be used to dispense up to two thirds of dispensing volume.
The letter includes a jumble of proposed measures, including centralised dispensing and online services. Reflecting the view of the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer that there are too many pharmacies, the letter says:
“In some parts of the country there are more pharmacies than are necessary to maintain good access.”
The threat to the network is clear but the letter is very short on detail on how the NHS will manage this “clustering” of pharmacies.
The only context in which patient choice is mentioned is to give patients the option of online services. The letter states that the Department will consult on the introduction of a scheme to provide additional funds to ensure that “those community pharmacies upon which people depend continue to thrive”. Following the shambles of the ESPLPS this promise will give little comfort to pharmacy contractors.
PSNC will meet in early January to agree how to deal with this.