Policy Team Blog: December 2021

By Alastair Buxton, PSNC Director of NHS Services

When PSNC Committee Members came together late last month, there were just two main things that everyone wanted to talk about: the problems facing contractors, and, more importantly, what we were going to do about them. Members of the Committee brought their own experiences as contractors as well as wider feedback about what is happening on the ground, and this matches what we are hearing directly from contractors and LPCs: right now, some pharmacies are saying things feel worse than they did through either of the two pandemic peaks.

According to LPCs attending the PSNC-LPC meeting last month, workforce is the biggest issue for businesses of all sizes. Across larger businesses there are clearly complicated logistics to juggle, while smaller contractors are also finding it extremely stressful – some are worried about patient safety; they say all staff have had to increase their hours to keep pharmacies open; and many are angry at the ever-rising costs they are having to cover, including on staffing (which won’t be assisted by the recently announced rise in the National Minimum Wage). PSNC is also very concerned about the rising costs that pharmacies are facing, particularly when combined with the broader impact of the ongoing funding squeeze.

As you would expect, PSNC’s position on all of this is clear – the sector needs more investment; it needs the promised help from Government to free up capacity; and workforce issues need attention and a collaborative effort both across the sector, and from within NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). More immediately, NHSE&I regional teams must take a more pragmatic approach on matters such as opening hours and temporary closures. We will continue to press for all of this, and more, through our negotiations, in our ongoing discussions with officials, in our briefings with Ministers, and through our wider media and lobbying work. You can read more about this in the report from the PSNC meeting and in our update on seeking extra support for the sector through the winter.

But PSNC Committee Members also reflected on the fact that it hasn’t all been bad news. In recent weeks some contractors have contacted us to highlight their successes in delivering both flu and COVID vaccinations and to stress that they are keen to do more. And we continue to hear stories about the very positive impact that all pharmacies are having in helping people in need.

On COVID vaccination sites in particular there are mixed views – contractors running them are enjoying doing so, but many say they are now struggling. The relentless pressure to keep the service staffed and managed, on top of everything else, is a battle. But other contractors look on enviously and say that they too would love to provide COVID vaccinations: many have been denied the opportunity by the NHS, who have only commissioned pharmacy sites to fill gaps in provision around PCN and mass vaccination sites.

The position of PSNC, and the other national pharmacy organisations, has always been that pharmacies are the logical place for the delivery of COVID vaccinations, and we’ll continue to press the case for many more thousands of pharmacies to be involved, should they want to be. We are also pressing for further support to help ease pressures on contractors over the coming months, because another thing that everyone in the sector is aligned on is the fact that pharmacies, once again, will provide a vital safety net for the NHS through this booster vaccination push.

Whatever role you will be playing – giving vaccinations, focusing on new services to improve wider wellbeing in your community, or picking up the increase in patients being displaced from General Practice that all pharmacies are bound to see – you will once again be absolutely critical to the nation’s efforts to complete this booster campaign. Everyone working in a pharmacy knows that. Everyone working to represent pharmacy knows that. And PSNC and others will keep pushing hard to ensure that everyone in Parliament, the NHS and the wider world knows that too.