Jackie Doyle-Price MP

A new inquiry launched to assess the impact of Covid-19 on English pharmacies has revealed that without urgent government action, financial pressure will cause irreparable damage to the sector.

The flash inquiry conducted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy (APPG) found that while pharmacy teams have been responding to the pandemic in heroic fashion, the sector is being pushed to breaking point because of unprecedented operational and financial pressures.

The group of MPs and peers heard that more than nine in 10 members of the pharmacy workforce felt their place of work was under severe financial pressure with nearly half of pharmacy contractors warning that they could close within a year.

“The pandemic has amplified and accelerated the worrying trends in pharmacy,” a report published by the group stated on Monday (Dec 14).

The survey, which involved 1,604 pharmacy professionals, found that 80 per cent contractors felt government loans to the tune of f £370m as advanced payments were not been enough to mitigate their financial woes. This loan released in three three separate instalments has been the only support package offered by government to deal with pharmacy’s ‘ pandemic costs, which has left many contractors deeply concerned about how they will pay this back in the future.

While 91 per cent respondents felt that the government did not appreciate the role of pharmacy in frontline healthcare, 80 per cent said they did not have access to any asymptomatic testing for Covid-19.

“The public rightly recognise pharmacy teams continue to lift heaven and earth to remain open and ensure the safe supply of medicines during the pandemic,” chair of the APPG, Jackie Doyle-Price, said. “But people would be shocked to hear that unprecedented financial pressure is now pushing many pharmacies to close.”

Urging the government to “seize on this opportunity to unleash the potential of pharmacy,” she pointed out that the report “outlines both the amazing response and suggestions for how the government can support pharmacies.”

The report has examples of how the potential value of properly investing in pharmacy and reform could save the NHS money and provide better outcomes for patients. “Evidence submitted to us was filled with examples of pharmacies providing a lifeline to communities, often directly saving lives. But it also conveyed a bleak outlook for the future highlighting the irreversible damage that is being caused to the pharmacy network.”

The survey results also indicated a high degree of burn-out in the workforce with many pharmacy contractors feeling that they are regarded almost as a charity service having to survive with uncertain and insufficient cashflow.  “A flat funding structure and rising costs are forcing pharmacies to operate with financial problems no business can endure.”

The report recommends:

  • Government should look back at the response from pharmacies during Covid and use this as a basis to revaluate a clear vision of what the country needs from pharmacy as vital frontline healthcare workers.
  • Government and NHS leaders should consult on and undertake action to empower pharmacists to do more by providing more resources for training and supercharge the workforce which has shown it is a vital component of the NHS. In particular, a focus on training more independent prescribers and, critically, commissioning services that enable them to put their skills to best use, would be helpful.
  • There needs to be a revaluation at both the heart of government and within finance teams in the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England about the value of pharmacy
  • Government should write off the advanced payments as an immediate way of providing relief to the sector. The government should consider the financial implications of asking the sector to pay back the £370m advanced payments at a time where immediate pressures are pushing many community pharmacies to the brink and payments had not been enough to cover the financial pressures brought on by Covid-19
  • In order to preserve the future sustainability of pharmacies we urge government to consider boosting overall funding in recognition of both the great financial pressures faced and the huge contribution made to frontline healthcare during the pandemic. It is clear that current funding levels may already be causing irreparable damage to pharmacies and without some kind of reform the number of pharmacies in England could substantially decrease.

Alongside chair Jackie Doyle-Price MP, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy has Sir David Amess, Paul Bristow, Feryal Clark, Jason McCartney, Taiwo Owatemi, Julian Sturdy, Lord Clement Jones and Baroness Cumberlege serving as members.

A survey of the pharmacy workforce as well as a call for evidence was launched by the group on November 17 and ran until November 30.

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