Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street for the House of Commons to deliver his Spring Statement on March 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Some of the leading pharmacy bodies and associations have raised concern over lack of focus on community pharmacy in the Spring Statement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Trade bodies have urged the Chancellor to support the sector, citing underfunding as one of the biggest challenges for the sector.

According to PSNC, Chancellor’s statement focussed primarily on helping people and tax plans, “and as is usually the case, there was no specific mention of community pharmacy.”

“The key announcement for healthcare was confirmation that the new Health and Social Care Levy (to be raised via an increase in National Insurance) will go ahead. This will fund increases in healthcare spending in England, but the Chancellor gave no further information about how or where that Levy will be distributed.”

PSNC remains very concerned about the chronic underfunding of community pharmacy, including the imminent loss in income from the winding down of some of the COVID-related services. This underfunding is a key focus for PSNC in the ongoing Year 4 CPCF negotiations, in which it has made another bid for a funding uplift for the sector.

The five-year CPCF and associated flat funding was always expected to be challenging, but COVID and other economic factors are now putting unreasonable and unsustainable pressures on pharmacy businesses, the negotiator noted. PSNC is seeking a funding uplift to correct the significant shortfall in funds for the sector – this would leave pharmacies better placed to support the NHS and avoid serious knock-on effects for the communities that they serve.

Responding to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, PSNC Chief Executive Janet Morrison said: “Community pharmacy owners, and all who work for them, are under an enormous amount of pressure at the moment. They will rightly feel that they are being taken for granted, and they will be disappointed that once again they warranted no mention in the Chancellor’s statement. PSNC’s position is clear: current funding levels are not sufficient for pharmacies to do all that is now being asked of them, and this needs to be rectified if Government and the NHS want to continue to rely on this valuable network of healthcare providers.”

“Pharmacy owners have made astonishing efficiencies over the past few years, but they now need to be treated like the valuable NHS colleagues that they are and given help to meet spiralling costs and to manage inflationary pressures. We are making all of these points – backed up by a wealth of evidence and analysis – to DHSC and NHSE&I as part of the Year 4 CPCF negotiations in which we are seeking a funding uplift for the sector.”

NPA and CCA stressed on the rising cost of doing the business. They said that the Chancellor focused on the cost of living crisis but the rising cost of doing business for the independent community pharmacies remained untapped.

NPA Chief Executive Mark Lyonette commented:“In his Spring Statement today, the Chancellor made a big play about addressing the cost of living crisis, but there is also a business costs crisis that is squeezing the life out of many independent community pharmacies. Utility bills, locum fees and business rates are all taking their toll, and NHS funding is nowhere near keeping up with the inflationary pressures in our sector.”

“As the government’s recent hub and spoke impact assessment shows, further efficiencies will be hard for pharmacies to achieve. So the inevitable result of decreased funding and spiralling business costs will be a diminished service and permanent closures.

“There is a piece of good news in that the Employment Allowance, which gives relief to smaller businesses’ National Insurance payments, will increase from April. The NPA initially persuaded the Treasury to include community pharmacy in the Employment Allowance, and this is now worth £5k per business per year.”

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the CCA, said: “Community pharmacy, just like other parts of the healthcare sector, is not immune to the rising cost of doing business. Community pharmacies are in dire need of additional support and we hope that this will be recognised in the current negotiations between the sector and NHS E/I & Department of Health and Social Care.”

The CCA has calculated that by the end of the current framework (2023/24), pharmacies will have experienced a real-terms reduction in funding of around 25 per cent since 2014. This will be to the detriment of communities, patients, and the entire NHS.

Harrison added: “Community pharmacies are in the perfect position to provide personalised and preventative healthcare through their relationships with local communities and are key to levelling up access to healthcare across the nation. Unfortunately, the government is sitting on this unlocked potential of clinical expertise. Pharmacy teams and CCA members stand ready and willing to deliver for patients, as they so valiantly demonstrated during the Covid response. However only with sustainable investment can the full value of pharmacies be realised.

“Furthermore, we are interested to see the proposals to reform the current tax system, including the apprenticeship levy, to further incentivise training for pharmacy professionals.”

RPS England Board Chair Thorrun Govind commented: “With the rise in National Insurance next month, patients will now be looking for the Chancellor to ensure the extra money makes a difference where it is needed most. This means looking beyond headline figures on capital spending towards a radical rethink on the Government’s approach to prevention, personalised care and helping people stay healthy.

“The Health Secretary’s speech on NHS reforms earlier this month set out some laudable ambitions, but this needs to translate to action.

“We know there are solutions to increasing patient access to care, such as the ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme in Scotland and the use of Independent Prescribers in Wales, if there is the political will to make it happen for people in England.

“Pharmacists will play a key role in unlocking the potential of personalised care and personalised medicines as well as supporting the growing numbers of people living with long-term conditions.

“Medicines account for billions in spending each year and pharmacists are crucial in delivering the best value for patients and taxpayers, so we need to see more than piecemeal investment in the pharmacy workforce.

“Pharmacy education reforms will only be a success if they are backed by increased funding for experiential learning in pharmacy schools, alongside investment to support professional development.

“Amid the cost of living crisis and people already struggling to pay for food and electricity, with further increases to come with inflation, it is extraordinary that the Government is considering forcing the over 60s to start paying prescription charges, while prescriptions are free for everyone in Wales and Scotland.

“It is high time prescription charges are abolished in England altogether. Patients should not be taxed for being unwell.”

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) believes that the statement includes important measures to reform R&D incentives in a way that reflects modern medicine discovery, which can support world-leading sector to grow.

Richard Torbett, Chief Executive, ABPI, said: “Our industry already invests more in research and development than any other sector. Today’s statement includes important measures to reform R&D incentives in a way that reflects modern medicine discovery, which can support our world-leading sector to grow.

“The Chancellor also sent an important signal that the government will look again at how the apprenticeship levy works. Getting this right can support more people into careers in the life sciences sector. This is something ABPI members have been calling for and we look forward to working with the government to get this right.”

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