Pharmacists have warned the sector is “close to breaking point” amid reports they may need to step in for striking nurses.
Millions of patients trust pharmacies every day as the first port of call for our national health service. They also offer a host of additional services such as substance abuse help, weight loss, and of course gigantic vaccination rollouts.
But more than 90% of community pharmacies earn their income through contractual NHS funding, which has faced real cuts of 25% since 2015, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) community pharmacy report showed. ) of December 2022.
“We’re very close to the limit,” said Malcolm Harrison, executive director of the Company Chemists Association at Boots Pharmacy.
Graham Phillips followed in his father’s footsteps when he became a pharmacist and is now the Managing Director of Manor Pharmacy Group.
He had to close one of his outlets in 2020 as it was “hemorrhaging money,” Phillips explains.
“At the time, he had a reasonably sized group of 10 pharmacies. He almost wiped out the entire group of pharmacies. And as a result, he was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.”
Mr Phillips now owns three in 10 pharmacies but is still struggling to make ends meet with limited NHS funds.
He explains that community pharmacies are “losing money on every prescription” they dispense due to the fact that they buy medicines and sell them to the NHS, often at a loss.
“It’s not sustainable,” he adds. “I estimate that in the next 12 months I could lose a third of the local pharmacies in the network.”
prices through the roof
The pressure is worsening with the ongoing threat of an invasive form of Strep A sending the cost of antibiotics skyrocketing.
Multiple pharmacies have warned that unable to obtain necessary medicationssuch as amoxicillin, to treat strep A when a child in Sussex died with a suspected infection on Friday, bringing the total to 16.
Despite the government insisting there are “sufficient” stocks, easing concerns about a national shortage, a pharmaceutical industry leader who agreed to speak to Sky News anonymously, said the cost of amoxicillin had risen from 80p to £18.
The shortages have been driven by “complicated supply chains”, with the Department of Health and Social Care saying it is “normal” for prices to “fluctuate with demand”.
More and more pressure with no money to finance
Both the National Pharmacies Association and the Company Chemists Association, which represent the UK’s largest and smallest pharmacies, say they have discovered a shortfall of 3,000 community pharmacists in England, partly due to poor recruitment by the NHS.
There have been 670 permanent closures since 2015, with warning from both associations there will be many more unless adequate funding is provided.
Mr Harrison explains that while there have been real-term funding cuts, the industry has also seen “a 36% increase in workload”, meaning staff have to do more for less.
But many pharmacies are already struggling to make ends meet, and if they are to also help fill the gaps that NHS strikes can cause, they will need help.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will undertake protest actions on December 15 and 20 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Our experience with COVID shows that when other parts of the system shut down, people go where it’s still open, and that’s pharmacies,” says Mr. Harrison.
“The problem we have is that more and more people coming in put more and more pressure on the pharmacy teams, and there’s no money to fund it or to get more people to take on that pressure.”
In response to concern from community pharmacies, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We commit nearly £2.6bn a year to support their vital work and improve integration into the NHS.
“In September, we announced a further £100m investment in the sector and contracted services to enable pharmacies to manage routine oral contraception without a GP prescription, take referrals for minor illnesses and supply urgent A&E medicines. and provide additional support to patients newly prescribed antidepressants.”