Pharmacy bodies have written to the Health and Social Care Select Committee to highlight their continued concerns for the ongoing funding and workforce challenges that the community pharmacy sector faces.
The letter urges Committee Chair and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP to ensure these challenges are recognised as part of the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the recruitment and retention of health and social care staff.
After eight years of a real-terms decrease in funding, and during a period when wider healthcare expenditure has risen, the financial situation has become simply untenable for a sector that demonstrated its undeniable value over the course of the pandemic. Pharmacies kept their doors open throughout, to ensure patients and members of the public received the medicines, care and advice they needed.
The impact of these funding cuts has been exacerbated by growing workforce challenges. A recent PSNC survey[i] found that 91% of pharmacies are experiencing staff shortages. At the same time, demand for community pharmacists has risen – nine in ten pharmacy teams reported a significant increase in phone calls from patients about prescriptions, and 86% reported a rise in requests for healthcare advice.
This is having a direct impact on pharmacy teams who are facing worrying levels of abuse from disgruntled members of the public.
The joint letter urges the Committee to hold the Government to account on these funding and workforce challenges. Ministers have restated their desire for community pharmacy to provide a raft of new clinical services, but we simply cannot unless these challenges are properly addressed.
The letter to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP is signed on behalf of the four Chief Executives of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), Company Chemists’ Association (CCA and Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp).
Mark Lyonette, Chief Executive, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said: “Community pharmacy is a can-do sector that wants to deliver even more for patients and the NHS, but we need enough people to power this forward-looking agenda. Right now there is a shortage of pharmacists, other key staff and funds to invest in training. We want to work with government and the NHS on solutions, and a realistic level of overall funding has to be part of that.”
Janet Morrison OBE, Chief Executive, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said: "Community pharmacies are facing an unrelenting combination of financial and operational pressures, with workforce challenges high on the list of many contractors’ urgent problems. As we have stressed to MPs, the sector needs urgent investment and support to address these challenges, and to avoid patient services being detrimentally impacted. The last few years have shown just how important pharmacies are to the public and Government must work with us to address workforce and other challenges so that we can avoid these critical healthcare locations being forced to close, whether temporarily or permanently."
Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) said: “Businesses of all sizes are struggling after funding cuts, which date from 2016, and worsening workforce challenges and it’s imperative policymakers recognise and take action accordingly. Pharmacies want to play their part in alleviating the NHS backlog but are hamstrung by the current arrangements. The sector needs a funding settlement that truly reflects the value it provides to patients, the public and the NHS.”
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said: “Over the past few years pharmacy teams have demonstrated very clearly their rightful place as the front door to the NHS. Their enthusiasm and hard work have been praised by the public and the politicians alike. We are willing and ready to step up and further be a solution to the current challenges within the NHS. But our sector is exhausted and starved of funding since many years. It needs prompt support and investment. The positive words need to turn into action.”
 PSNC, ‘Pharmacy Pressures Survey confirms impact on teams, businesses and patients’, 25th April 2022, available online here.