The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a huge nationwide focus on the emergency services in general and frontline medical NHS staff.
The recognition of the community pharmacist has grown and it has been great to see the appreciation of the vital role played by pharmacists working throughout the pandemic. Many have stayed open as usual throughout the lockdown, dispensing the medication that people rely upon to maintain their physical and often mental well-being.
However, their ability to maintain ‘business as usual’ has come at a cost, the scale of which has been recognised by the government recently announcing a £300 million cash ‘boost’ for community pharmacists to help them maintain their services throughout the pandemic.
This funding injection was combined with an earlier announcement from the Department of Health and Social Care stating that the number of services that community pharmacists were expected to provide would be reduced, enabling them to concentrate only on the most vital.
Devil in the detail
Like many of the fiscal measures announced by the government during the pandemic, the £300 million was far from a simple hand-out, with the details being slightly more complex.
The money, for example, is not additional funding to that which would have been received anyway, with the sums due to be ‘reconciled’ at a later date. £200 million was paid at the beginning of April with a further £100 million made available at the beginning of May.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) negotiated with the government for cash flow assistance in light of issues such as increasing numbers of prescriptions, extra staffing costs and rising drugs bills, all of which they blamed on the pandemic.
The PSNC welcomed the funding as a step in the right direction but stated that they were still seeking and hoping to agree a longer term solution:
“In negotiations over the past month we have made clear to HM Government that community pharmacy is at a critical point, with pharmacy teams and businesses under extreme pressure and many pharmacies now not financially viable.
We welcome the intention of this cash injection, and in particular Ministers’ recognition of the impressive way in which pharmacies are rising to the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. But this funding gesture alone is not enough: we have informed HM Government that it simply will not be sufficient to help many contractors meet the rapidly increasing costs that they are facing as a result of this pandemic.
We are continuing our dialogue with the Minister, with officials and with the NHS, and in the coming days we and the other national pharmacy organisations will be putting yet more evidence to them, trying to persuade them of the very urgent need for further emergency funding support, over and above the agreed global sum of £2.592 billion, for this vital part of the NHS.”
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, stated he was “disappointed” with the sum and with the fact that it will have to be paid back, going on to state that: “In addition to the increased cost of purchasing medicines, pharmacies are having to pay for additional staff and overtime, additional cleaning and guarding, as well as providing protective equipment — such as screens and visors — to protect their teams, so that they can stay open for the public.
We have grave concerns that pharmacy businesses, large and small, will not be able to continue to cope in this unprecedented situation without adequate additional support and may be forced to close permanently.”
The consensus across the spectrum of industry bodies seemed to be that the £300 million represented a welcome boost to cash flow, but was little more than a sticking plaster in the long term and that, like many other sectors, community pharmacists would end up suffering permanent pandemic related damage if no new money was made available.
It is a sector we know well here at Ansons with our specialist Pharmacy team ready to discuss any challenges faced and try to find a solution. If you own or manage a Pharmacy and would like to discuss your situation, please speak to Emma Benniston on 0121 716 3701 or email email@example.com
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