Simon Dukes, CEO, PSNC

Over 30 parliamentarians from all political parties have called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State for Health and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to urgently write off the £370m in emergency Covid-19 loans granted to community pharmacies last year.

In a letter sent last weekend, they have also been urged to deliver a “more sustainable” long-term funding solution for the sector.

The call was initiated by chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) Jackie-Doyle Price, who enjoys an strong support from PSNC and other national pharmacy organisations.

The Sunday Times reported on May 23 that local pharmacies were facing closure because the Treasury was demanding repayment of emergency loans it gave them to help stay open during the Covid pandemic.

Ministers have been warned by industry leaders that the Covid vaccination rollout and the autumn flu jab campaign will be in jeopardy if high street pharmacies giving them out were forced to shut, industry leaders warned this weekend.

The paper quoted Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, as saying: “Pharmacy teams have never worked harder than in the past year, and they have never been relied on more by patients and the rest of the NHS. And this hasn’t stopped — pharmacies are still helping the Covid-19 vaccination programme and they’re now a key player in the provision of NHS Covid tests. Why the government would reward them for their loyalty by putting their livelihoods at risk is a question I don’t have an answer to.”

Dukes said: “We’ve been negotiating on Covid costs since July last year, and the feet-dragging by HM Treasury is scandalous.

“The emergency pharmacy loans received last year have been used by some of our most valuable healthcare providers on offering safe services for the NHS to help their patients during a global health crisis.

“This money has been spent. Pharmacy teams have never worked harder than in the past year, and they have never been relied on more by patients and the rest of the NHS,” he said.

Dukes added that the negotiations have been going on since last year and “we are now in for it for the year ahead. Pharmacies want to get on with delivering the new services that we had planned; but we can’t do that with the loans issue still hanging over our heads. Pharmacies need answers, and they need to be treated as the critical healthcare providers that they are.”

Community pharmacies were granted a total of £370m in advance payments to help alleviate cashflow issues at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, negotiations on those loans are still ongoing, alongside negotiations on Year 3 of the five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) deal.

In his video message released a few days ago Dukes said, “Delivering new services under the CPCF will not be possible without a satisfactory outcome on pharmacy’s Covid-19 costs; the Committee is determined that contractors’ Covid costs are covered.”

Furthermore, many MPs who voiced their support for the community pharmacy in a House of Commons debate on the future of NHS and social care held last week (May 19) stressed on the important role pharmacies have played during the pandemic.

One of them James Cartlidge, Conservative MP for South Suffolk, said: “Community pharmacy is doing a huge amount already, but it has earnt its spurs during the pandemic, giving out over 3 million jabs to date.

“This is more than the entire population of Greater Manchester. It is now seen in my constituency how community pharmacies can really make a difference. My constituents have chosen them as their preferred place to receive a jab and it shows what more they can do. We must give them a deeper role in the delivery of healthcare in this country.”

Elliot Colburn, Conservative MP for Carshalton and Wallington, said: “I want to raise in particular the incredible effort throughout this pandemic of our amazing community  pharmacists, who are so often left out of the conversation.

“They have demonstrated just how important they are, and we must reward this effort by reviewing their funding model, expanding their roles and giving them a seat at a strategic ICS level to help shape the future of healthcare delivery in their local areas.”

Currently the government has been faced with the challenge of trying to balance the books after spending billions of pounds helping the NHS and other public services to tackle the virus.

“But pharmacy leaders warn that even chemists that manage to stay afloat if forced to pay back the cash will still have to take drastic steps such as cutting staff or stock levels, and stopping unpaid services such as the delivery of items to patients’ homes, which could leave patients waiting much longer to receive vital medicines,” the paper reported.

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