The closure of up to 3,000 pharmacies in the UK will be a ‘disaster’ which could lead to more GP patient demand for minor illnesses and severe problems with repeat prescriptions, GP leaders have warned.
The Government is currently consulting on plans to slash funding for community pharmacy in 2016/17 by £170m – a cut of more than 6% – which a health minister says could see as many as 3,000 pharmacies close.
At the same time, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) says that its talks with ministers have suggested that there may be an increased focus on warehouse dispensing and online services.
The proposed cuts, which were announced in December, saw the community pharmacy budget cut from £2.8bn this year to £2.63bn in 2016/17.
Part of the Government’s rationale for implementing the cuts was because it wants to introduce more pharmacists into general practice.
The consultation highlighted the initiative to place pharmacists in GP practices as an example of how it wants community pharmacy to function, adding that it wants to pharmacists working in care homes and urgent care as well.
But it also said that there were too many pharmacists in some areas.
A letter from NHS England and the DH to Sue Sharpe, the chief executive of the PSNC, said: ’In some parts of the country there are more pharmacies than are necessary to maintain good access. Forty per cent of pharmacies are in a cluster where there are three or more pharmacies within ten minutes’ walk.’
The PSNC and the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) have claimed that health minister Alistair Burt had told them that ’up to 3,000’ pharmacies could close.
Minutes of a meeting between Mr Burt and the APPG on 13 January 2016 state: ’[Mr Burt] could not be certain how many would close but suggested it could be between 1,000 and 3,000.’
GP leaders said this could be a ‘disaster’ for practices.
Peter Higgins, chief executive of Lancashire & Cumbria Consortium of LMCs, told Pulse: ‘It will be a disaster if community pharmacies close. They are part of the network of community services available to patients and it is not possible to ”hit” one part of this network without it having an impact on the service as a whole.
’A great deal of emphasis is being placed on relieving pressure on doctors’ surgeries by encouraging patients with minor ailments to seek help from their pharmacy. This can’t happen if the pharmacy is not there.’
GPC negotiator Dr Brian Balmer said: ’The Government appears to just be imagining that the world without community pharmacies will be fine and that the pharmacists will just be able to set up shop in GP practices. There will be an effect on the entire service.
’Community pharmacists are trained to do a certain job, they are not trained to work alongside GPs. There will need to be significant retraining done for them to work in practices and many practices won’t have room to house them. It’s not a clever move.’
Pharmacists working in GP practices
pharmacist practice pharmacy 1 PPL
This was a doubling of the original funding pot of £15m as a consequence of higher-than-expected demand, but the pilots are to demonstrate that pharmacists can be self-funding in practices when funding is withdrawn.
It is part of the Government’s ‘new deal’ for reducing workload pressures on GPs, and it plans to help practices – likely as part of federations – to directly employ clinical pharmacists in ‘areas of greatest need where GPs are under greatest pressure’.