Chief Executive’s blog: May 2020

Chief Executive’s blog: May 2020

“We need to write-off this advance against other costs contractors have borne”

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

As community pharmacy teams survey the arena having achieved great things for the NHS over the past eleven weeks, now is the time to look forward. There is still a long way to go before aspects of our pre-COVID world return – indeed some of them may never do so – but we have all adapted to new ways of working. The PSNC Committee met (virtually) at the end of May to discuss what the sector should ‘stop, start, continue’ in the current and coming environment.

We covered a lot of ground: exploring better use of technology (for example to manage workflow and improve patient-pharmacy- GP communications); examining the possibilities for greater regulatory flexibility; discussing a reduction of bureaucracy; and highlighting a wider remit for some pharmacy services. We are now working-up those proposals to have meaningful discussions with NHS England & NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on what community pharmacy should look like with/after COVID-19 and the financial implications. The Government calls it ‘Restoration and Recovery’ but given that the pandemic has impacted on every aspect of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF), I would prefer to call it ‘Reset and Reform’.

You will have seen by now the additional £50m advance paid on 1st June. I hope this will provide some assistance with the cashflow problems many of you are facing. This means of course that the sector has had a total advance now of £350m. Unlike in some of the devolved nations, we in England do not have a timetable for when and how this has to be paid back. PSNC’s position is that we need to write-off this advance against other costs and activities that contractors have borne during the pandemic, and our discussions with DHSC continue. You will have also seen that DHSC has agreed to increase Category M reimbursement prices by £15m in June, and we are discussing what further increases might look like over the summer to ensure delivery of the £800m margin as per the current CPCF.

Separately, but linked to the above, our overall funding bid (for payment of COVID-19 costs so far incurred by contractors) is still with HM Treasury and we await a response. I will keep you posted. As an aside, not that it helps, in a conversation with colleagues in the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee, their bid for cost recovery (sent to the Treasury just before ours) is also stuck in Horse Guards Road, SW1.

For me, an important part of ‘looking forward’ is the completion of the ‘Independent Review of Contractor Representation and Support’. You will remember that Professor David Wright and his team from the University of East Anglia is leading the review. When I proposed the review at last year’s LPC Conference, I assumed by now that we would be deep into discussing the recommendations and exploring efficiencies and better ways of providing value for money support to front-line contractors. David completed the report at the end of March, but decided not to publish it until we all had more time to consider and reflect on his findings. I am pleased that he has now dusted it off and reviewed it in the light of COVID-19. He has proposed some tight timescales to push us and the report forward: sending the completed report to LPCs and PSNC by 17th June; publishing it (with a media briefing) two days later; and hosting a webinar for all contractors on 29th June.

I have no doubt that the report will make uncomfortable reading for all of us in PSNC and LPCs. Some will want to ignore and discount, others may want to obfuscate and delay, others still will no doubt decry and disparage. But the contractors we serve deserve the best value we can provide, and in a post-COVID world, there may be no better time for us to shape the future – no matter how difficult that might be for us, individually and organisationally. After all, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

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