More Government funding is vital to stop the closure of our local community pharmacies
Financial pressures facing pharmacies since 2016 due to Government spending cuts have been fatal to community pharmacies across the country, with many operating at a loss, or being forced to close, writes Holly Lynch MP.
My first job was in a local chemist shop between the ages of 14 and 18.
It was a true community pharmacy with people from all walks of life coming through the doors for advice, medication, and reassurance.
What has always stayed with me about that job was understanding that for a lot of older people in particular, the relationship with their pharmacist was often the longest standing and most trusted relationship they had with a clinical professional. It’s a big part of the reason why I am so worried about what is happening to community pharmacies.
When the community pharmacy contractual framework was announced in October 2016, it sought to reduce the budget for pharmacies from £2.8 billion in 2015/2016, to £2.59 billion by 2017/18.
This represented a 4% reduction in funding in 2016/17, and a further 3.4% reduction in 2017/18.
When you factor in inflation and all the services that pharmacies were already offering for free, this was a near fatal blow to pharmacies across the country.
The Minister at the time, Alister Burt, told MPs that he expected between 1,000 and 3,000 pharmacies to close as they would no longer be viable in the face of the cuts.
Three years on, the closures are creeping up with many pharmacies now operating at a loss, clinging to the hope that the funding arrangements will improve, but with a business model which just isn’t feasible.
When I worked in a pharmacy, delivering prescriptions to people’s homes and organising drugs into trays with dates and times for those who needed it was a big part of the team’s work, but these are tasks which are no longer funded and for a pharmacy to absorb those costs following the cuts is just not possible, so the cost is being passed on to those who can least afford it.
There was a degree of social care being undertaken by pharmacies which in the financial climate has had to end.
We can all see what the consequences of that will be, more costly and more clinical interventions.
In addition to the financial pressures facing pharmacies, the implications of drugs shortages are now becoming unbearably resource intensive across the NHS, with pharmacies having to spend hours sourcing drugs, or speaking to GPs about possible alternatives to prescribed medications.
As it stands, it would seem that the shortages are caused by a combination of different issues.
The implications of Brexit are inevitably a factor which will play out over the coming weeks and months, however we know that the UK is potentially losing out to more profitable and attractive markets elsewhere.
In addition to this, the stockpiling of certain drugs which are harder to source as a precaution, coupled with the deliberate and more alarming manipulation of the markets by some wholesalers to deliberately push prices up are having a detrimental effect on their availability.
Whilst there are a number of complicated issues which are driving pharmacies into closure, the latest Government proposals do start to understand the potential of pharmacies in alleviating the pressures on GPs and hospitals and see them delivering more clinical services with the 111 service now making referrals directly to a designated pharmacist.
Yet, I return to the very clear warning given by the then Minister back in 2016.
Between 1,000 and 3,000 of all pharmacies will not be viable and will be forced to close if the overall funding does not increase.
Only when the Government funds pharmacies to pre 2016 levels will we stop the closures, and unlock the true potential of our local community pharmacies.
Holly Lynch is Labour MP for Halifax.
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