Policy Team Blog: October 2021

By Zoe Long, PSNC Director of Communications and Public Affairs

Waking up yesterday to headlines about a Winter Access Fund, providing extra monies for GP practices to help them offer face-to-face appointments, quite rightly irritated most in community pharmacy. Pharmacies stepped in when other parts of the NHS became less accessible during the pandemic. Pharmacies kept their doors open, lockdown after lockdown. And pharmacies, on top of offering informal advice to some 58 million people a year, have provided every pandemic-related service asked of them. Many pharmacies are at breaking point too, so where are their extra monies?

The Daily Mail at least had something positive to say, heralding a greater role for pharmacists in managing patients with minor ailments, including via a bigger role in prescribing medicines. Health Secretary Sajid Javid, writing in the paper, said: “I want every practice to use the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation service (CPCS), so our brilliant community pharmacists can do more in terms of prescribing.” He also said he was asking officials to look at a ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme for England.

Whatever we might think of the Winter Access Fund, this vision for pharmacies is positive. Since launching a year ago, low GP CPCS referral rates and lack of interest from general practice have been a bugbear for contractors in many areas and PSNC has been pressing for action to incentivise GPs to engage. The Government has now provided that incentive.

They have also opened the door for discussions about how all of the walk-in advice that pharmacies provide every day should be funded. This too is something that we have long been battling on. Back in 2015 we thought we were getting somewhere when our detailed proposal for a minor ailments service triggered some lengthy discussions with the NHS, only to be knocked back at the last moment. And over the past year too this has been up for discussion given the clear evidence from our Advice Audits showing that the informal healthcare advice being given by pharmacies is going well beyond what the contract funding can sustainably cover.

We know that additional support for all of this is not going to come easy; and it was interesting to read yesterday that GPs were dismayed by their apparent win. Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, told The Guardian, “…we’re hugely dismayed that whilst additional funding has been promised the package as a whole offers very little… Appointments will be harder to book, waiting times will get longer… It is also disappointing to see that there is no end in sight to the preoccupation with face-to-face appointments.”

But that additional support must come. Community pharmacies could not have done more to support patients, the public and the NHS throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. You have also been critical in reducing the burden on general practice, and we agree with the Health Secretary that this should be maximised via the CPCS and other, funded, routes.

The logistical, operational, financial and sheer emotional challenges you have overcome have been enormous, leaving many of your businesses struggling for survival. So pharmacy too needs additional investment: that must not remain the preserve of general practice and hospitals. PSNC is continuing to make this case loudly and clearly to Government and the NHS, including as we work through the CPCF Annual Review process.

Ultimately, if the Government and NHS wants ‘brilliant community pharmacists’ to do even more, then they are going to have to find some ways to help them with their cost and capacity challenges too.

“Pharmacists to get more power”, said the Daily Mail headline this week. Bring it on.