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What Is the Value of Community Pharmacy in England Under COVID-19?

on Thursday, 15 October 2020.

Whilst the Government has been singing the praises of workers in the NHS, particularly those working in hospitals, one sector of health professionals that have been working throughout the pandemic has hardly received a mention.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA), which represents community pharmacy, commissioned Ernst & Young to prepare a report.

Published in September 2020, the report provides an overview of the activities and value delivered by community pharmacy in England, as well as its financial position and sustainability.

Key Findings

  • In a survey conducted by the NPA of 1,000 members of the UK public, trust in pharmacists came second after doctors and nurses and ahead of GPs, opticians and dentists.

  • Through the COVID-19 lockdown, when face-to-face GP appointments were seriously reduced, community pharmacy played an important and expanded role in supporting patients.

  • During COVID-19, pharmacists saw the following increases for advice for serious conditions: 10% all the time, 43% frequently, 45% occasionally, 1% not at all, and 1% unsure.

  • Community pharmacists also saw the following increases in requests for home delivery service: 66% all the time, 31% frequently, and 3% occasionally.

The report found that whilst the NHS wants an expanded role for pharmacy, financial pressure undermines that strategy. Whilst pharmacist consultations and other services can relieve pressure on GPs and planned care services, 87% of pharmacies report they cannot afford to take on the staff to provide more services.

  • Between 28% and 38%, of the network is in deficit. The NHS has encouraged longer opening hours for community pharmacy. However, of those sampled, premises in deficit reported being open 57 hours a week in contrast to those in surplus being open 51 hours a week.

  • Community pharmacy in England represents only 2.3% of the total NHS spend in England, and has been reduced by £200m since 2016. However, its role is a contributory factor to UK medicines spend being 16% lower per capita than the OECD average.

  • Community pharmacy’s funding in England is £2.6bn to manage the procurement and dispensing of £9.1bn of medicines in primary care.

  • The current 28% to 38% of community pharmacy estimated to be in deficit is projected to rise to between 64% and 85% by 2024 under current financial arrangements.

Main Recommendations

The report recommends that the NHS should understand that the contraction of community pharmacy limits the health system’s ability to deal with crises and spikes in demand such as winter pressures. Closures will limit access to essential health services in unprofitable areas. Consequently, the NHS should alter its funding to ensure that community pharmacy is viable. Regulation should be adopted to oversee the relationship between community pharmacy and its monopolistic purchaser and so mitigate the risks associated with it.

The report concludes that the current financial arrangements stand the community pharmacy network is unsustainable.

We have heard from many pharmacies we work with of these growing issues. If you would like to speak with us about them or would like help with any legal issues facing your pharmacy, please contact John Zucker in our Healthcare team on 07973 638 589, or complete the form below.

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