NPN | Pharmacy Challenges - Costs

Pharmacies are capable of providing vital services that are able to take some of the pressure off the NHS, identifying and treating minor illnesses that would otherwise require the time of a GP and leave individuals with potentially more serious ailments in the waiting room. However, without an injection of more funding, this will soon be something they are unable to do.

Currently, the vast majority of the income earned by community pharmacies comes from the NHS as a result of a five-year arrangement between PSNC, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), guaranteeing funding of £2.592bn per year until 2023/2024. However, recent funding cuts have unfortunately failed to take into account the increasing costs of running a pharmacy which have developed over the past few years.

With inflation and costs for stock increasing, many community pharmacies were already underfunded before the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring last year. To ensure the safety of the public and their staff, many pharmacy owners were forced to choose between using their own money, reducing the services they offer to their community, or losing staff to ensure they could stay open and continue supporting their area.

Last year PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes said he was concerned that community pharmacies that were forced to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may not open again:

“I am genuinely concerned that we will see COVID-19 related pharmacy closures and those businesses will not have the funds to open again, thus reducing the network of pharmacies on the high street just at the time when they are needed most.”

He wasn’t wrong. More than 200 pharmacies in England closed last year, which Dukes described as ‘nonsensical’ in the midst of a pandemic.

“Were it not for the stoicism of community pharmacy contractors and the dedication and commitment of their teams to patients, I believe we would have seen even more pharmacies close their doors for good, leaving those patients without the support they desperately need.”

As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, and pharmacies join the effort to vaccinate the communities who need protection, community pharmacies are once again on the front line, experiencing a notable rise in the number of walk-ins and phone calls, enquiries for delivery services and increasing levels of staff sickness. Many community pharmacies that were already “on their knees financially” are now “teetering on the brink of collapse.”

“The sector needs urgent investment now just to keep the doors open and ensure that the vital services of dispensing and reassurance to patients and the treatment of minor ailments continues.”