Chief Executive’s blog: April 2020

Chief Executive’s blog: April 2020

“The network resilience that the NHS is relying on at present cannot be taken for granted”

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

I’m not sure it’s possible even to summarise, in my usual 650 words, all the work that PSNC has been doing over the past four weeks to support contractors and their teams at the frontline of community pharmacy. So I’m not going to. On the PSNC website you will find resources, tools and information on funding, contractual and regulatory matters, business continuity, opening hours and closures, supply, Easter opening, PPE, delivery service, staff safety, education and training and much more. All of it updated regularly on the basis of new information every day. Instead, I thought I would focus on the work that all of you are doing.

I know Ministers are aware that community pharmacies are playing a hugely important role in the response to COVID-19. As well as ensuring that patients continue to get their medicines – an increasingly difficult task in light of ongoing supply chain issues and social distancing requirements – pharmacies are now in many areas the only primary health professionals that patients can still see in person.

One pharmacy manager told PSNC last week they are now seeing more patients “than ever before”, and this story seems to be echoed across the country. The value of the healthcare advice that pharmacies are giving, along with the safe supply of medicines on which so many people rely to stay healthy, has increased significantly during this pandemic. Pharmacies are playing a critical role in supporting patients and taking pressure off the rest of the NHS.

Which means that those underlying funding and capacity challenges for the sector which I have spoken about before need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, and as part of a transparent and shared vision for the future of the network. The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework settlement agreed last July makes no allowance for inflation despite material increases in the National Minimum Wage from April 2020, and there has been no opportunity to make any of the efficiency savings implicit in the settlement assumptions. It certainly didn’t have COVID-19 built in to it!

The network resilience that the NHS is relying on at present cannot be taken for granted. As one independent community pharmacy contractor told PSNC recently: “I have done everything the Government has asked of me … but we are simply not being funded adequately for the job we are doing. If my doors were to close, the local primary care system would fall over, and yet here I am at serious risk of going out of business in the middle of this national crisis.”

Pharmacists talk of a deepening sense of anxiety and fear amongst their teams; they tell of gruelling work schedules which are affecting their families and their wellbeing and are unsustainable from a health perspective long term; they say that morale is at an all-time low as they struggle to keep up with demand; and they talk of the abuse that they suffer daily from members of the public who are angry, frightened and do not understand the challenges facing pharmacy teams. Their stories paint a worrying picture of a group of people working for the NHS operating under immense pressure and in a sector that is close to collapse from exhaustion and underfunding.

PSNC’s mission is clear. It is to get the sector enough financial support to get us through COVID-19 – which we and the NHS both need. To do this, NHSE&I have to recognise what is obvious to us, our patients, healthcare colleagues and now society as a whole – that community pharmacy is a crucial part of the NHS. Only then can we sit down and together with NHSE&I and DHSC have a fundamental review of the Contractual Framework and a full and frank discussion about what the Government and NHS want from us in a new normal world and how it should be funded.

One final thing. I need to repeat what I said in my recent webinar on Wednesday 15th April (still available on the PSNC website!) – on behalf of all of us at PSNC, thank you for everything that you and your teams are doing to help our country through this national crisis. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.

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