Chief Executive’s Blog: April 2024

By Chief Executive Janet Morrison

As we reach the end of the five-year CPCF deal it’s likely that commissioners of pharmacy services will want to focus on all that has been achieved for patients and the public. It is no exaggeration to say that community pharmacies played a critical role in getting not just the health system, but the nation, through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the expansion in the services that pharmacies offer over the past five years has been nothing short of heroic. In recent months there has been yet more celebration about the launch of Pharmacy First.

But this positive spin from commissioners is completely at odds with the deeply distressing truth. While pharmacies have certainly achieved a spectacular amount in the past five years – once again proving themselves to be the beating heart of primary care – nobody in community pharmacy is anywhere close to being in celebratory mode. This is a sector on its knees with the current wave of closures and financial losses likely to continue unless and until Government and the NHS change course.

We continue to hear from pharmacy owners in a state of extreme financial and personal stress, and public pharmacy business accounts tell a tale of businesses in deep distress. We have for many months been warning Government and the NHS that the sector is at crisis point, providing clear evidence of the catastrophic state of business finances, and raising red flags about the clear and present danger to pharmacies and to patient care.

This is of course the focus of our current negotiations. As I said earlier this year, Community Pharmacy England has set out the need for an uplift to the core global sum reflecting the grave state of sector finances. We are arguing for margin write offs and for an agreed mechanism for regular funding increases linked to activity and inflation; annual uplifts to service fees; and for more fundamental reform of the margin delivery framework and an economic review of the medicine supply chain. We restated all of this to the Health Select Committee last month.

Of course this is another complex negotiation taking place against a backdrop of challenging primary care funding settlements and constrained public spending. But resolving the pharmacy funding crisis is vital if Government and the NHS want to protect the access to pharmacy services on which the NHS and patients rely so heavily.

Pharmacy owners urgently need good news, and our Negotiating Team are working at pace to try to get this. The sector also needs questions about the longer-term future answering, although with a General Election on the horizon these are difficult for anyone to answer: all current political analysis suggests that we will have a change in Government and that a rapid Spending Review will follow the election. We are ready to fight hard for pharmacy during that Spending Review, and we have been working with the health teams of all political parties to position the sector with the new Government.

What we do know is that the financial fragility of pharmacies is such that urgent action is needed to slow the current wave of closures. NHS England has noted this fragility during Board Meetings, and Government too has been presented with the overwhelming evidence of this, including by MPs. Without this action, the commissioners of pharmacy services will be presiding over an ongoing crisis for pharmacies that will have an increasing impact on patients. We will continue to fight hard, alongside everyone in the sector, to change their course.