Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks on Spending Review 2020 and the Office for Budget Responsibility's latest economic and fiscal forecast at the House of Commons in London, November 25, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

Even as chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled the findings of his much-anticipated Spending Review today (Nov 25), pharmacy bodies wasted no time in renewing their calls for more money for the sector.

The National Pharmacy Association called for a slice of the NHS spending boost to be used to help community pharmacies survive. In a letter to NHS England’s chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, the NPA’s chief executive, Mark Lyonette, has asked that some of this new money be earmarked to support the hard-pressed community pharmacy sector.

Lyonette warned: “If the current pharmacy funding arrangements continue unchanged, many pharmacies [in England] will be unable to survive – limiting access to health services in villages, towns, urban areas and in rural communities. The inevitable result will be more pressure on the NHS.”

He was referring to an NPA-commissioned report by Ernst and Young (EY) earlier this year which showed that three quarters of family-owned pharmacies in England would be losing more than £40,000 a year by 2024.

“We were delighted to hear that the chancellor will announce a further £3bn funding for the NHS in the Spending Review this week. We very much hope that some of this extra funding will be used to prevent the community pharmacy network falling over and help us keep the doors open for vital NHS care,” Lyonette added.

Community pharmacies collectively face a funding gap of about half a billion pounds. The sector has seen funding drop in real terms for four years, and is set to carry on this path for a further four years under current arrangements.

Responding to today’s announcement, Claire Anderson, chair of RPS in England, said: “The Spending Review pledges to increase supplies for key medicines treating Covid-19 patients, which play a crucial role in improving patient outcomes. With the predicted future pressure on public finances, it will be more important than ever to make the most of pharmacists’ expertise to deliver the best value from medicines and support patient care.

“I welcome investment in the health and care workforce and it will be vital this supports the pharmacy profession and the ambitions set out in the NHS People Plan. With our wellbeing results today showing pharmacists are facing even higher risk of burnout, we’ll continue calling for greater support for their health and wellbeing.

The chancellor has committed to increasing the core health budget by £6.6 billion, in addition to pledging an extra £3 billion to support the NHS to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

The core funding aims to help deliver 50 million more GP appointments, whilst half of the Covid support monies has been earmarked to ease existing pressures in the NHS, the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Committee has pointed out.

“These top-level spending commitments to the NHS are promising, but, as ever, the impact on community pharmacy will depend on the details,” PSNC said in a statement. It’s chief executive, Simon Dukes, regretted that whilst the spending review “sets out high-level” government spending priorities, it does not give any details of what happens to community pharmacy.

“PSNC has submitted two comprehensive funding bids to government – one on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on pharmacies, and one seeking an uplift to CPCF funding – and we hope that we will now receive a response to those soon.

“The commitments of this review to support the NHS are welcome, and the £1.5bn set aside to help ease pressures on the NHS caused by Covid-19 must be used to give community pharmacies the help that they urgently need.”

Echoing the sentiment, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said community pharmacies can take pressure of the NHS by taking care of minor ailments which typically would fall to an ‘overstretched’ A&E and GP surgeries.

“Community pharmacy is the front door of the NHS and has demonstrated its enormous value to public health by holding its nerve and ensuring its doors remain open delivering accessible healthcare without appointment or triage, and without a day disruption,” she noted.

“We continue to provide cost effective healthcare to UK tax payers combined with the resilience and agility that makes our sector unique.”

Hannbeck called for a special status for community pharmacy and urged the government make appropriate investment in the sector which is under significant financial pressure.

“Last year 405 community pharmacies were forced to close their doors, unable to sustain overheads or purchasing obligations. The current community pharmacy funding is inadequate and an increasing number of pharmacies closing means millions of patients will be denied the access to local healthcare,” she said.

“We are proud to support the local community, but we need investment in the sector now more than ever to avoid further closures and to reach our true potential.”

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