Chief Executive’s blog: June 2021

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

I know everyone is busy, but please do take a moment to look at the detail of the COVID-19 costs offer we have negotiated with HM Government.

A year ago (unbelievable it’s taken this long, I know) we had an offer on the table which would have allowed community pharmacy contractors to claim for their COVID costs for just the three months to May 2020. There was a maximum claims ceiling for the sector of £120m. If you had received a Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant it would have been deducted from your claim. Costs could only relate to certain activities (increased dispensing activities, backfill costs etc), and each activity had a claims limit imposed. The Treasury then wanted its £370m loan paid back.

Quite rightly, the PSNC Committee pushed back hard on that offer. You will recall me saying at the time that ‘costs were costs’ and there could be no limit imposed on our claim. Moreover, COVID costs to our businesses were ongoing beyond May 2020 so to restrict a claim period to three months at the height of the first wave of the pandemic was nonsensical.

We therefore called for £370m loan to ‘be written off’ against our COVID costs. It was never going to be agreed to by a Treasury focused on protecting the public purse and (as our GP colleagues will attest) wedded to a claim-based process for any costs-type expenditure. But it was a simple and financially justifiable narrative that we could build support behind.

A huge cross-sector effort was mobilised: LPCs lobbying their MPs; our colleagues at the NPA, CCA and AIMp shouting loudly in the media and elsewhere about the unfairness of treatment of our sector; and PSNC talking to Minsters, and officials who were working hard behind the scenes influencing HM Treasury on our behalf. It all had an effect.

Is the outcome (which DHSC and HM Treasury has called its ‘best and final offer’) what we wanted? No of course not. But it’s an enormous movement in our direction from where HM Government started 12 months before. PSNC calculates (from data provided to us from across the sector) that our total COVID costs for the Financial Year 2020/21 were in the region of £450m. To be fair, there was some significant double counting included in that figure (it included PPE costs for example which we ended up gaining separate reimbursement for).

So what now? Every contractor: big and small; independent and multiple; bricks and mortar and online – you all need to claim back your COVID costs. Costs that were incurred by community pharmacy contractors, their pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dispensers, counter staff, drivers and the wider teams. Costs that were spent on keeping the doors open under unprecedented pandemic conditions to serve the millions of (often worried and frightened) patients who needed medicines, wider pharmaceutical services, and advice on the pandemic.  Costs that the sector deserves to have reimbursed.

PSNC will do everything it can to provide guidance – we will organise webinars and further online advice – and we will work with colleagues in the NPA, CCA and AIMp to get those messages communicated as widely as possible. There is plenty of flexibility built-in to the claims process for contractors to provide evidence of the costs incurred – receipts, invoices and timesheets of course, but also think laterally about what evidence you can provide to demonstrate the costs you incurred.

This is not a great deal, but it’s a decent offer by HM Treasury and DHSC and it’s the best we can get: 13 months of costs; grants excluded from the overall quantum; no cap on the totality of claim; and no restrictions on the types of costs that can be claimed against. Oh yes, and if you own more than one pharmacy, you can submit one claim for all your premises​​.

Does this offer provide any insight as to how our sector is viewed by HM Treasury, DHSC, NHSE&I? I don’t know. That’s an ongoing discussion for all of us.  For now, you need to get claiming: community pharmacy finances are squeezed enough, don’t subsidise HM Treasury any further by letting them off the hook on your COVID costs.

COVID costs claims must be made via a form to be submitted to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) between 5th July and 15th August 2021. Click here for further information on the COVID costs agreement.