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Cuts to pharmacy funding will impact other parts of the system - the National Pharmacy Association

In recent years, community pharmacy has expanded its role, and now provides a wide range of medicines services and public health services (NHS and non-NHS), within easy reach of the people who need them most. 96% of people can get to a pharmacy within 20 minutes by walking or using public transport.  Most pharmacies now have consultation rooms, where patients can talk with the pharmacist without being overheard.  Local pharmacies also ensure people can get face-to-face, healthcare professional advice without an appointment, thereby absorbing demand that would otherwise press on general practice and other parts of the health and social care system.

Unfortunately, local pharmacies are under pressure from severe NHS funding cuts, being imposed from December 2016. The Department of Health has imposed a two-year funding package on community pharmacy, with a £113 million reduction in funding in 2016/17.  Pharmacies will see their funding for December 2016 to March 2017 fall by an average of 12% compared with current levels. 

The long term result, if there is no change of policy direction, is likely to be pharmacy closures and concomitant impacts on patient care and public health.  There could also be far more immediate effects – with access to pharmaceutical care beginning to reduce in the coming months, adding significantly to winter pressures on the NHS. 

About three quarters of independent pharmacies fear that they will have to reduce services to some extent before April 2017, i.e. during this coming winter, because of the cash flow challenges presented by frontloaded cuts.  Many community pharmacies have few options to reduce their cost base quickly beyond cutting staff levels and reducing opening hours.  This is bound to add to winter pressures on other parts of the health service, such as General Practice and A&E. 

The cuts will begin to take effect just as pharmacies are entering the busiest period of the year, as well as this being the busiest period of the year for other parts of the health service. The immediate concern is for service levels over the crucial winter period when demand is at its highest because of seasonal illness.  Local pharmacies play a crucial role in soaking up pressure on General Practice, by providing support for self care, offering health advice, urgent medicines, and opening extended hours. 

It has been calculated that 3% of all A&E consultations and 5.5% of GP consultations could be managed in community pharmacies – which amounts to 650,000 visits to A&E and 18million GP consultations.  Based on these figures, treating common ailments such as coughs, colds, and sore throats costs the NHS an extra £1.1billion a year when patients are treated at A&E or GP practices rather than community pharmacies. 

Research commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association (Quadrangle, Feb 2016) shows that there will be a considerable knock-on effect to other parts of the health system if access to pharmacies diminishes. Two in five people (41%) said they would go their GP if it became more difficult to access their local pharmacy for the treatment of common conditions. 28% would go to an NHS walk-in centre, call 111 or 999 or visit A&E, putting even more pressure on stretched NHS services. Treatment via such settings is considerably more expensive than in a community pharmacy. 

A better future is possible. The National Pharmacy Association believes that the right approach should maximise patient choice, protect the most vulnerable people and populations, ensure people can continue to get their medicines when and where they need them, and take pressure off overstretched GP and hospital services.

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