The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment to increase the NHS budget, hoping that ‘community pharmacies benefit from this investment’.

The association is urging the government to address years of underfunding so that community pharmacies can avoid staff lay-offs to cover the increasing costs of the national living wage.

The government’s uplift of the National Living Wage was confirmed in its latest budget announcement to tackle the cost of living crisis. The NHS budget will also be increased in each of the next two years by £3.3bn.

A recent NPA commissioned report by Professor David Taylor from University College London predicted that wage inflation and other cost pressures could combine with funding cuts to lead to cut-backs and pharmacy closures.

Olivier Picard, NPA Board Member and owner of Newdays Pharmacy in Buckinghamshire said: “My staff are rightly deserving of a pay rise and I’m well willing to give that but the pressure we are under and the costs of medicines are higher than what we get paid. I’m genuinely worried about the business going forward.”

Another NPA member, predicting job losses across his regional group, said: “Due to the national wage increase our salary bill will increase with £300k per annum. To keep level, we will need to reduce the equivalent of 17 full time employees in the company. Not sure where we can do this, as we are really tight already.”

Responding to the Autumn statement today NPA Chief Executive Mark Lyonette said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to increase the NHS budget and it’s only right that community pharmacies, which have been the front door to the NHS, benefit from this investment.

“We’re now into the eighth year of real-terms cuts. Despite this pharmacies up and down the country are continuing to provide a crucial service to their patients and the entire community. Dispensing NHS medicines, providing healthcare advice, vaccinations, health checks and other services. But this state of affairs can’t carry on while pharmacies are running on empty.

“Our members are under massive pressure in terms of inflated costs and funding cuts. They are having to make cut-backs, just at the very moment their help is needed to get the NHS back on its feet after the ravages of covid.

“The sector needs new investment to make sure it can continue to help the people who rely on them for a great service, and to keep pressure off GPs and hospitals, especially as we now face winter.”

PSNC Chief Executive Janet Morrison said: “Another funding increase for the NHS is much-needed and welcome but it’s critical that community pharmacy receives its fair share of these monies. While NHS budgets have continued to tick upwards, pharmacies have faced significant real-term cuts since 2015 leaving contractors and their teams making unsustainable efficiencies to maintain service levels.

“Despite all the challenges, pharmacies have delivered all that has been asked of them, but enough is enough: pharmacies have been squeezed to their limit, and this is now having a worrying impact on patients as well as on the health of contractors and their teams. Government and the NHS must put this right by investing in pharmacies now to support services that patients need and value, to relieve pressure elsewhere in the NHS, and, in the long-term, to save the health service money.”

“Additional funding to the NHS is welcome but the Government must set out their plans to improve primary care access without delay, the Company Chemists Association (CCA) commented.

It added: “Improving accessibility to primary care will be impossible without investment for community pharmacy. The network of around 11,000 community pharmacies in England is on the brink of collapse after 25% real terms decrease in funding, spanning eight years.

“In 2021/22 community pharmacies in England dispensed more than 1 billion NHS prescribed medicines for patients. Based on current rates of growth, we expect this figure will grow by a further 100 million items by 2025/26. Rising patient demand for pharmacies can only be met through additional funding.

“The NHS workforce plan to be published next year is also welcome but pharmacists, especially the pharmacist workforce in the community sector, must be included. Policymakers need to urgently recognise the difficulties pharmacy businesses of all sizes are facing in finding pharmacists. The sector desperately needs a comprehensive picture of the forecasted community pharmacist workforce.  Any plan must be supported by clear actions to reduce the demand on and increase the supply of pharmacy professionals.

“Community pharmacy has clearly demonstrated what it can deliver to patients, this can only continue if Government urgently review the economic and workforce crisis the sector is facing.”

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