Pharmacies are operating at a loss and the system is in danger of collapsing, warned Steve Barclay.
A letter to the Health Secretary, signed by leading pharmaceutical experts including heads of Boots and Lloyds, reveals the sector’s problems as the NHS faces a tough winter amid strikes, record waiting lists and staff shortages.
With the economy struggling, staff costs spiraling and long-term funding cuts, pharmacists fear the system could collapse without a cash injection of around £400million, better recruitment and an increase in funding flows.
“The long-term attrition of real-term funding cuts of 30% over the past seven years is now resulting in a severe degradation of patient services,” the letter states.
“Many pharmacies are now dispensing at a loss and are facing a severe cash flow crisis which, if not resolved, will quickly lead to many permanent closures. We are concerned that once started, the closures will be difficult to stop as the sector is now so fragile that other pharmacies would struggle to pick up the slack.
“We are deeply concerned that this will put the supply of medicines at risk, with serious consequences for the millions of people who depend on prescriptions given each year.”
Janet Morrison, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and co-signer of the letter, told the Telegraph that current pressures on other aspects of the NHS are “undoubtedly having an impact on community pharmacies”.
“As other NHS services become more difficult to access, more and more people are turning to their pharmacies for help,” she said. “We’ve seen this during the pandemic, when pharmacies have acted as a really effective safety net for patients and the NHS.
“But that safety net is now also at breaking point – without urgent action, we believe temporary pharmacy closures will turn into permanent closures and the next health crisis will be the inability of some patients to access their medicines on order”.
Around 90% of pharmacy’s money comes from contract funding from the NHS to provide various services but, as this becomes more operationally costly, these cannot be passed on to the customer – unlike other industries.
Personnel costs now account for 84% of pharmacists’ funding – up from 53% in 2010 – due to shortages caused by the recruitment of workers in other health fields and locum costs which then soared by 80%.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our five-year agreement with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee provides £2.6 billion a year to the sector, allowing pharmacies to provide services such as taking NHS 111 referrals online, administering blood pressure checks and taking care of routine oral contraception without a doctor’s prescription. On top of that, we announced an additional £100m investment in the sector to help support the NHS.
“There is good access to community pharmacies, with 80% of people living within 20 minutes’ walk of a pharmacy, and twice as many pharmacies in more deprived areas.”