Chief Executive’s Blog: September 2023

By Chief Executive Janet Morrison

As we move into September thoughts inevitably turn to the coming winter, and it’s hard to be optimistic when all signs suggest that this will be one of the most challenging yet for community pharmacies and the wider NHS.  

As doctors continue to strike – despite ongoing assurances from the Health Secretary that their pay deal is final – and demand for both primary and secondary care keeps growing, it’s inevitable that people will continue to turn to their local pharmacies for help. The impossible pressures show no signs of abating, with pharmacy businesses on their knees – struggling like so many other sectors to stay above water in the current economic climate, and further hampered by the devastating impact of the historic funding cuts.  

And there has been no respite for pharmacies this summer. Pharmacy teams are still providing a safety net for other parts of primary care, with increasing numbers of patients, and frustrated and angry patients at that, coming to them. NHS policy-making on the winter vaccinations programme has caused extra work and worry, with the inexcusable flip-flopping over start dates. And of course medicines supply has remained a critical pressure and for some an existential threat – with the atorvastatin crisis just the tip of the iceberg for pharmacies.  

At Community Pharmacy England we remain totally focused on making life easier for pharmacy businesses and all those who run and work in them. We are fighting hard to get around some of the many obstacles on finance, medicines supply, regulatory and other areas. And we are continuing with our double-edged influencing work – highlighting the intense pressures on pharmacies and warning of the catastrophic consequences if they do not get additional funding and support, but showcasing what solutions pharmacy could offer if it is properly supported.  

In the immediate term, it is critical that we get the £645m Primary Care Recovery Plan investment flowing into pharmacies quickly – this has been the goal of our Negotiating Team since the negotiations began a few months ago. But the proposals also need to be workable, and we and the Government and NHS have been working through some big questions relating to the proposals to try to ensure that new services are workable, and that all of this investment gets to where it needs to go. Progress has been slower than we had hoped because of the complex matrix of Government stakeholders invested in this particular policy, going right up to the Prime Minister’s office. We will share news as soon as we possibly can.  

We are also preparing for the upcoming negotiations on the CPCF arrangements for 2024/25, putting together our business case to bid for a funding uplift and looking at what other demands we can make which would make a genuine positive difference. 

And we have held our eye on the longer-term with the vision work that we commissioned from Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund due to be published later this month. Many of you will have inputting into that work and we know that the two think tanks – who are two of the biggest hitters in the health policy world – have already been effectively influencing about pharmacy as they worked through the project. Their vision will set out an optimistic but achievable map for the future, while also identifying the key barriers and levers for change. Deciding how we take which elements of this vision forward will be an enormous task in which the whole of Community Pharmacy England will be involved through the autumn, alongside our negotiating and other work.  

We hope that pharmacy owners will stay engaged with us during this difficult period and likewise I will remain as proactively in touch with you all as I can be. As part of this commitment I invite and encourage you to sign up for our pharmacy owner engagement event on September 18th when I’ll be able to update you on some of the Committee’s ongoing work and offer a preview of that vision report – sign up here.

Whatever the coming winter brings I am sure of two things: that community pharmacies are going to be more critical to the health of the population than ever before, and that your representatives here will be fighting on all fronts to get you the help that you need.