Local pharmacies ‘close to the edge’ as nurses’ strike adds pressure and funding remains limited

Pharmacists have warned the sector is ‘close to the edge’ amid reports they may have to step in for striking nurses.

Millions of patients rely on pharmacies every day as their first port of call to our national health service. They also offer a whole host of additional services, like addiction help, weight loss, and of course, rolling out gigantic vaccinations.

But more than 90% of community pharmacies derive their income from contract funding from the NHS, which has faced real cuts of 25% since 2015, the Pharmacy Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) community pharmacy briefing showed. December 2022.

“We’re very close to the edge,” Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association, told Boots Pharmacy.

“The Bleeding of Money”

Graham Phillips followed in his father’s footsteps when he became a pharmacist, and is now managing director of Manor Pharmacy Group.

He had to close one of his establishments in 2020 because it was “a haemorrhage of money”, says Mr Phillips.

“At that time, I had a reasonably sized group of 10 pharmacies. It almost destroyed the entire pharmacy group. And as a result, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

Mr Phillips now owns three out of 10 pharmacies but is still struggling to make ends meet with limited NHS funding.

He explains that community pharmacies “lose money on every prescription” they dispense due to the fact that they buy drugs and resell them to the NHS, often at a loss.

“It’s not sustainable,” he adds. “I think in the next 12 months you could lose a third of the local pharmacies in the network.”

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Skyrocketing prices

The pressure is compounded by the current threat of an invasive form of Strep A which is driving up the cost of antibiotics.

Several pharmacies have warned that they cannot get needed medicationsuch as amoxicillin, to treat strep A as a child in Sussex died of a suspected infection on Friday, taking the total to 16.

Although the government insists there are “sufficient” stocks, concerns are waning over a national shortage, a leader in the pharmaceutical industry who agreed to speak to Sky News anonymously, said the cost of amoxicillin has dropped from 80p to £18.

The shortages have been caused by ‘complicated supply chains’, with the Department of Health and Social Care saying it is ‘normal’ for prices to ‘fluctuate with demand’.

Growing pressure with no money for funding

The National Pharmacy Association and the Company Chemists Association, which represent the UK’s largest and smallest pharmacies, say they have discovered a shortfall of 3,000 community pharmacists in England, partly due to poor NHS recruitment.

There have been 670 permanent closures since 2015, with both associations warning there will be many more unless adequate funding is provided.

Mr Harrison explains that while seeing real cuts in funding, the sector has also seen “a 36 per cent increase in workload”, meaning staff are having to do more for less.

But many pharmacies are already struggling to make ends meet, and if they too need to help fill any gaps that may be caused by NHS strikes, they will need help.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will take industrial action on December 15 and 20 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Our COVID experience shows that when other parts of the system shut down, people go to where they’re still open, and that’s pharmacies,” Harrison says.

“The problem we have is that more and more people are coming in and putting more and more pressure on the pharmacy teams, and there’s no money to fund it, or to bring in more people to deal with that pressure.”

Responding to concerns from community pharmacies, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are committing nearly £2.6billion a year to support their vital work and improve integration across the NHS .

“In September, we announced an additional £100m investment in the sector and commissioned services to enable pharmacies to manage routine oral contraception without a prescription from a GP, manage minor ailments and A&E’s urgent drug supply recommendations and to provide additional support to patients newly prescribed anti-depressants.”

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