The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has expressed dismay over a recent news report which alleged that the NHS could be running up to “several billions” in surplus at a time when the community pharmacy sector was reeling under considerable financial strain.

An article in the Health Service Journal recently reported that the NHS was “scrambling to avoid a substantial and ‘embarrassing’ underspend” from the budget it negotiated with the Treasury to meet additional Covid costs.

Describing the news as “shocking for community pharmacies”, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of AIMp, has called upon the government to ensure that NHS England put the money to good use by paying community pharmacies for their £370m outlay in maintaining the service throughout the pandemic.

Stating that community pharmacies stayed open throughout pandemic whilst being the first port of call for health related advice for many NHS patients, she said, “it’s only right that they’re not left out of pocket for taking necessary protective measures, for their staff and for the public who turned to them for assistance.”

The NHS negotiated £18bn in additional funding to deal with the pandemic. This was separate to another £60bn used on items such as Test and Trace and providing PPE to NHS staff. Some of that £18bn has not been spent.

Meanwhile, as a sector, community pharmacies were given £370m as advance payment by the government to ease the cashflow crisis caused by what they had to spend to make their shops safe.

“The treasury is refusing to write-off that loan, a move that has provoked fury among community pharmacies are under considerable financial pressure. Pharmacies are known to offer valuable healthcare services to all communities and hence it is reasonable for the NHS to write-off the loan and to cover the extra costs that pharmacies have occurred due to the pandemic,” she said.

However, despite knowing the efforts pharmacies have put in, it is even more annoying to know that NHS was looking to community pharmacies to provide more services, in advice and treatments for minor ailments, to relieve the strain elsewhere on the system, on GP surgeries and A&E departments, she added.

“We are delighted to do more but we would like a sign of goodwill. Using the surplus to help us would be a good way to start,” Hannbeck concluded.

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