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Exclusive: ‘The biggest crisis in living memory’


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NPA’s new CEO wants politicians to stop pharmacies from going out of business

Ministers must do more to help community pharmacists who are being forced to close in record numbers, the new boss of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has told Pharmacy Business.

In an exclusive interview, Paul Rees said the NPA’s “Save Our Pharmacies” campaign, where community pharmacists will close their doors for two hours today (June 20), will highlight the severe strain the sector is under.

He said that while they were the backbone of their communities, pharmacists were being forced to dig into their own pockets to make sure their businesses survive.

“There’s a crisis going on, the biggest crisis in living memory in community pharmacy,” said Rees.

“Pharmacies are struggling with a bizarre and shocking funding model that sees them spending disproportionate amounts of time purchasing medicines and not being adequately reimbursed.”

Rees is the first black chief executive of the NPA, and he was previously CEO of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

He took up the post six months ago, and since then he has been campaigning for better funding, representation, and support for pharmacies across the country.

“Pharmacies are the only parts of the NHS where clinicians put their hands in their own pockets in order to deliver NHS Care,” said Rees.

“We have to make this an issue that people are talking about, otherwise, politicians will walk on the other side of the road.”

Pharmacy anger

Community pharmacists are shutting up shop for two hours today to show their anger over what they regard as a funding crisis.

They will turn out the lights and pharmacists will be wearing black outfits, black out the windows in non-dispensing areas from 9 am to 11 am, hoping politicians will realise this is a vital issue during the general election.

“Pharmacists are having to spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to purchase medicines in line with the drug tariff,” Rees continued.

“They’re not supported by the NHS for their estate, for their buildings, for putting in additional consulting rooms.

“They’re not supported for study leave.”

Rees has encouraged his members to lobby politicians running for office.

According to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBA), more pharmacists are closing than opening for business.

During January 2021 to May 2024, the number of pharmacists dropped from more than 11,20 to just under 10,500.

So called 100-hour pharmacies – those who operate seven-days a week averaging 14-hour days, saw a 24 per cent decrease, from almost 1100 to just over 830.

“Conversations around community pharmacy are limited,” he told Pharmacy Business.

“We want the pharmacies not to be seen as second-class citizens in the NHS, we want an end to closures.”

Subsidising NHS

He explained that pharmacists were subsiding the NHS and losing £108 million a month.

“There’s no way GPs, surgeons, or physicians would tolerate this situation,” said the NPA boss.

“It’s community pharmacists who are the hardest working, and they’re the ones who are overlooked all the time.

“Community pharmacy is at the heart of healthcare delivery and can be at the heart of the prevention agenda.”

He emphasised the sector’s call for an increase to 2.5 percent of the NHS budget because it has had a decline in funding for a decade.

“What’s happened since then is cost-cutting measures have been prioritised to reduce expenditure, resulting in the UK spending roughly half of what France and Germany allocate for medicines.

“We’re there to support independence, which forms a greater share of the market now.”

Cause for optimism

He said there was cause for optimism because political leaders were starting to acknowledge the issues facing community pharmacies.

“In the past six months, we’ve been to Number 10 twice, met with the Treasury, and had significant discussions with politicians across the board.”

What was important, said Rees, was that they recognised the importance of the work community pharmacists do today and did during the pandemic – something the association told the Covid-19 inquiry.

“It’s the more powerful people who write history, [and] there’s a danger that the role of community pharmacy is totally forgotten.

“So, we want the final report to recognise and acknowledge the role that community pharmacy played and in helping the nation fight the pandemic.”

Rees stressed the importance of maintaining the survival of the community pharmacy network.

They will be able to respond to future health emergencies, including potential future pandemics, he said.

“Pharmacies can be the front door to healthcare, providing essential services and support to local communities.

“It’s vital that all pharmacy bodies work together to present a united front.

“The ‘Save Our Pharmacies’ campaign is a testament to this collaborative effort.”


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