Chief Executive’s blog: January 2021

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

As I write this first blog of 2021 my team and I are preparing for the early February meeting of PSNC, and it strikes me that this meeting will mark a full year since the Committee and executive team were able to meet in person. Like the organisations we represent, we have been innovative in working around the challenges that have faced us, allowing our core business to continue effectively and safely.  But what a year we have seen. A year of sadness for many people in England and beyond; a year of challenges for everybody, no matter their home or work situation; and for community pharmacies a year of utter and relentless hard work, of heroic efforts, and above all of putting their patients first, no matter the personal and financial costs to them and their teams. And this community spirit goes on, as some of you are now opening up COVID vaccination sites as well – with many more to follow over the coming weeks.

So what awaits us at this first full PSNC Committee meeting of 2021?

It goes without saying that PSNC members will be attending our virtual two days together with a growing sense of deep frustration and increasing irritation. Despite our constant efforts, and more importantly the phenomenal work pharmacies have been doing all year, we are not making progress in our funding negotiations. It really is a case that there are none so blind as those that will not see.  The financial evidence of the costs that community pharmacy has borne in helping the NHS get through this pandemic is crystal clear from the data we have collected and continue to collect.  Costs are costs are costs – if you had asked an employee to go out and purchase an item for your business and they returned with the item and the receipt, none of you would look at the cost and give them a ‘contribution’.  You would reimburse them the full amount of the money they had spent – not to do so would not only severely undermine the relationship between you and your staff, but it would mean that they were in effect subsidising your business.  After 12 months of supporting the NHS through the clinical and pharmaceutical services you provide your patients, and still no resolution on COVID-19 costs, the Government is in effect asking you to pay for the privilege.

A regular feature of our negotiations is the refusal of officials to treat pharmacies as the core part of the NHS that they are. Others resist conversations about fair margins and value, focusing only on what they consider to be the bare minimum costs for service delivery. And another regular occurrence is the long delay (sometimes many months, as we have seen with our most recent funding bids on COVID costs and a CPCF uplift) while officials do the work they need to do, followed by a rapid presentation of information to PSNC with a tight deadline for turnaround.

I have been involved in many negotiations over the years and I have always believed that the best discussions take place in private.  It saddens me that PSNC is being forced to be increasingly public about the situation we find ourselves in.  Of course we have a monopsony purchaser with all the challenges that brings, but PSNC Committee Members are clear that the sector must not be bullied, and that we will continue to hold the NHS and Government to account privately for their decisions and processes – but we will also now say more in public alongside the other pharmacy bodies if we don’t get positive outcomes soon.

As we continue to make the case for the sector and to push officials towards more reasonable funding and service arrangements, we will also need your ongoing help. Thank you to all of you who have managed to squeeze in time to take part in the Pharmacy Advice Audit this month. We’ll be analysing the data from that over the coming months and we are also thinking about ways to capture the views of your patients and the excellent experiences that we know they have had from pharmacies through the pandemic. We will again work together with the other pharmacy organisations on this mammoth task: it is going to be another busy year for us all.