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Winter brings formidable challenges for community pharmacies, NHS: CPE

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A combination of factors, including the doctors’ strike, medicine shortages, and funding scarcity, indicates that this upcoming winter could be the most challenging period for both community pharmacies and the NHS, Community Pharmacy England has said.

In a September 4 blog post, CPE Chief Executive Janet Morrison emphasised that the relentless pressures show no signs of easing. “Pharmacy businesses, like numerous other sectors, are grappling with the challenges of staying afloat in the current economic climate, compounded by the detrimental effects of historical funding cuts.”

“The doctors’ strike, despite ongoing assurances from the Health Secretary that their pay deal is final, will inevitably exacerbate the demand for both primary and secondary care, leading people to turn to their local pharmacies for assistance,” she added. “This, in turn, will heighten the pressure on community pharmacies.”

“Whatever the coming winter brings I am sure of two things: that community pharmacies are going to be more critical to the health of the population than ever before, and that your representatives here will be fighting on all fronts to get you the help that you need.”

‘No summer relief’

Morrison emphasised that pharmacies have not experienced any relief this summer.

“Pharmacy teams continue to act as a safety net for various facets of primary care, handling a growing number of patients, including those who are frustrated and irate,” she added.

“NHS policy changes regarding the winter vaccinations program have caused extra work and worry, particularly due to the inconsistent decisions regarding start dates.”

In response to a new Covid-19 variant, the NHS England has moved up the autumn vaccination drive in England from October to September 11.

Moreover, “the ongoing challenge of medicine supply has placed significant pressure on pharmacies, with the atorvastatin crisis being just one of the many issues they face,” she added.

Morrison emphasised that CPE maintained a steadfast commitment to improving the circumstances for pharmacy businesses and everyone involved in them.

“We are actively addressing various challenges related to finance, medicine supply, regulation, and more. CPE’s efforts involve advocating for additional funding and support, while also showcasing the potential solutions that pharmacies can provide if adequately supported.”

‘Swift implementation of £645 million Primary Care Recovery Plan’

Morrison underscored the urgency of swiftly channelling the £645 million Primary Care Recovery Plan investment into pharmacies, which has been CPE’s negotiating team’s primary objective since negotiations began months ago.

“The proposals must also be practical,” Morrison said. “Both the government and the NHS, along with us, have been diligently addressing significant questions related to these proposals. Our aim is to ensure the viability of new services and the effective allocation of this investment to its intended destinations.”

Yes, Morrison admitted, progress has been slower than anticipated due to the intricate network of government stakeholders involved in this policy, extending up to the Prime Minister’s office.

Meanwhile, CPE is also gearing up for the forthcoming negotiations regarding the CPCF arrangements for 2024/25. “We are in the process of assembling the business case for community pharmacies to seek increased funding and exploring additional requests that could truly bring about a positive impact,” she further said.

In July, Community Pharmacy England, pharmacy owners, and LPCs met in Leeds to tackle urgent issues, including pharmacy pressures and ongoing negotiations for the Primary Care Access Plan. The two-day meeting on July 12-13 covered both immediate and strategic topics, emphasising the ongoing negotiations for £645 million investment in community pharmacy. The Committee also discussed ways to maximise funding for pharmacies without increasing their burdens.

Long-term vision work

CPE has also upheld a long-term perspective through their Vision Work, which was commissioned from Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund and is scheduled for publication later this month.

“Many of you have contributed to the Vision Work, and we recognise that these two influential think tanks in the health policy realm have already been making a substantial impact on the discussion surrounding pharmacy as they’ve collaborated on this project.” Morrion said. “Their vision will outline a practical roadmap for the future, identifying key obstacles and drivers for change.”

“Determining how we proceed with various aspects of this vision will be a substantial task involving the entire Community Pharmacy England community throughout the autumn, alongside our ongoing negotiations and other activities,” she added.

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