Community pharmacy is set to suffer a 6% budget cut next year, while simultaneously being asked to provide greater support to GP practices, in care homes and A&E departments.
The move was branded ‘unprecedented’ and ‘profoundly damaging’ by pharmacy representatives, who said it would force community pharmacies to ‘direct more people to GP or urgent care’.
In an open letter to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the Department of Health said it was consulting on a new ’Pharmacy Integration Fund’, which it says will ’help transform how pharmacists and community pharmacists will operate in the NHS’.
But it added that at the same time, NHS funding under the community pharmacy contractual framework in England will be cut from £2.8bn to £2.63bn annually in 2016/17, delayed to October to give pharmacies ‘time to prepare’ for the change.
The letter said that there was ’real potential for far greater use of community pharmacy and pharmacists’ including in prevention, minor ailments, long-term conditions management, medication reviews in care homes and working in ‘integrated local care models’.
It said: ’To this end we need a clinically focused community pharmacy service that is better integrated with primary care. That will help relieve the pressure on GP and A&E departments, ensure optimal use of medicines, better value and better patient outcomes, and contribute to delivering seven-day health and care services.’
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 added that it believes ‘efficiencies can be made within community pharmacy without comprising the quality of services or public access to them’.
The letter 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.’
It also said this would mean greater use of ‘hub and spoke’ automated dispensing by robots.
The PSNC said 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’.
PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe said: ‘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.
’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.’