Barry Gardiner MP. Photo: ©Edward Lloyd/Alpha Press

Labour MP Barry Gardiner has asked the Health Secretary to “reappraise” the current support given to community pharmacists, saying that it will be “extremely difficult” for them to pay back the £300m advanced payment.

In a letter on Sunday (May 3), Gardiner asked Matt Hancock to “reconsider the funding freeze,” referring to the current fixed funding in the national contract for community pharmacy.

Independent pharmacy needs support

Gardiner estimated that over the course of the current contract, pharmacists would have suffered a real-terms cut of nearly 30 per cent, with the smaller independent pharmacists being the hardest hit.

“Pharmacists tell me that they are deeply concerned,” he wrote, noting that “they should not be worrying about cashflow” at a time when they were facing increasing volumes of prescription and patient demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“But as their costs increase, they are faced with trimming staff hours, postponing necessary training or restricting certain free services. I ask that you support local pharmacies going forward and reconsider the funding freeze you have imposed,” he added.

Pharmacists will struggle to pay back Gov’t loan

Gardiner is also concerned that the £300m advanced payment will be clawed back next year. Noting that due to large increases in wholesale bills, contractors were paying a lot more for some of the drugs they dispense than the NHS reimburses, he said  it was “extremely difficult” to see how any local independent pharmacy “might be able to pay back such a loan.”

The Labour MP lamented that pharmacists had to source their own personal protection equipment (PPE) because the government and Public Health England had been “painfully slow in offering any help or guidance.”

“Even today, PPE, when it is available, still has to be paid for by the pharmacies themselves,” he added.

Gardiner continued: “Everyday pharmacists and their dedicated teams face the public. They cannot know who they are serving, nor whether they are carrying the virus. But they continue to serve in the frontline with courage and steadfast attention to duty.”

He noted that he was “relieved” when Hancock clarified that death-in-service payment of £60,000 would now include families of pharmacists.

The Labour MP, however, regretted that despite desperately needing government help and support, many pharmacists were unable to make use of the Covid-19 cash grants and rate reliefs because they didn’t not qualify.

He would like the government to address the anomaly, he wrote.



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