The Health Select Committee Expert Panel has concluded in its report published on Tuesday (25 July) that the funding aspect in the community pharmacy sector ‘requires improvement’ based on the evidence received.
The Expert Panel reviewed nine Government commitments, seven of which were from the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework.
It was found that available funding was not sufficient to keep pharmacies open, struggling financially with increased demand for dispensing, workforce pressures and rising costs due to inflation. One of the other commitments requiring improvement covered a scheme intended to protect access to local physical NHS pharmaceutical services in areas where there were fewer pharmacies.
Professor Dame Jane Dacre, Chair of the Expert Panel, said: “Pharmacy plays a key role in the delivery of care so it’s disappointing that progress overall to deliver on the Government’s commitments was rated as ‘requires improvement’.
“We’ve found community pharmacies to be at particular risk with the existing funding model unable to prevent some high street pharmacies facing closure and others struggling to provide services in the face of rising demand and increasing costs.
Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) said: “Whilst we welcome the direction of travel that the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care have set out for community pharmacy, this Expert Panel report shows that there is much more to do, especially in the here and now.
Action must be taken to address the historic underfunding of pharmacies and the current funding model must be reviewed without delay. The Expert Panel also highlights the ever-increasing workload faced by pharmacy teams and the need to rollout the promised CPCF ‘efficiencies’ as soon as possible. It is therefore unsurprising to see the Expert Panel deem Government progress in pharmacy services as ‘requiring improvement’.
Our recent paper pulls together all the pieces of the Government and NHSE’s plans to transform access to healthcare through community pharmacy.
Government must be prepared to step up to the plate and implement all pieces of the puzzle together, if patients are to truly benefit from the transformation of community pharmacy”.
James Davies, Director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has described the Inquiry report as ‘a wake-up call’ for the Government.
He said: “In particular, the report highlights the recurrent theme of inadequate funding to support the government’s ambitions.
“Due to their prime location in communities, and pressures on other NHS services, demand for community pharmacy services has increased significantly. However, many are struggling to deliver services, or even to remain open, within the existing funding. These services are especially vital in deprived areas, where people often face multiple health conditions compared to affluent areas.
“The current funding model for community pharmacy does not support the most disadvantaged in society. Recent analysis of pharmacy closures shows that there were more than five times as many closures in health-deprived areas compared with the number of closures in the least deprived areas.
“Poor digital maturity and lack of investment within Hospital Trusts and community pharmacies have further hampered progress. Outdated paper prescribing is still the norm in too many settings. The lack of integration and ability for IT systems used in community pharmacy and hospital pharmacy to exchange and use information holds back further progress in removing prescribing errors and improving patient care.
“Pharmacists in the community urgently need to have access to patients’ full medical notes, and the ability to amend their record once they have treated them, to improve care and communication across the system. This is particularly urgent given the new services for treating common conditions which will be implemented next year.
“Pharmacies are still lumbered with an absurd prescription charging system which is effectively a tax on the sick. Efforts to encourage patients with minor illnesses to be treated by their pharmacy team will be hampered if those hit by the cost of living crisis, or who are already exempt from charges, are asked to pay for over-the-counter medication as they will end up returning to their GP to ask for a free prescription instead. We want to see prescription charges abolished for people with long-term conditions in England, making medicines free to access like in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”
The panel found: “Demand for community pharmacy services has increased significantly with community pharmacies struggling to deliver services within the existing funding model, or even to remain open.”
They also said available funding was “not sufficient to keep pharmacies open”, nothing that businesses are struggling financially with increased demand for dispensing, workforce pressures and rising costs due to inflation.
This echoes what Community Pharmacy England has been saying for many months now, in repeated conversations with Ministers, officials and Parliamentarians.
The report also noted the Government’s recent commitment to an economic analysis of NHS pharmaceutical services through an independent review, which Community Pharmacy England has said could be helpful “if completed appropriately”.
Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy England, said: “I am grateful to the Expert Panel for their considered evaluation of current Government commitments related to pharmacy. We are not surprised by the panel’s findings that progress on the majority of commitments required improvement – we have been pressing for this on an ongoing basis.
“We all know that many of the issues that community pharmacies are struggling with relate to insufficient funding of the sector, which has been cut, in real terms, by 30% over the last seven years. An urgent funding uplift and more support is now required for community pharmacies before the consequences are felt by more and more patients across the country.
“This report paves the way for the Health and Social Care Committee’s full inquiry into pharmacy which will be influential, and we are already fully engaged with.”