Chief Executive’s blog: September 2020

Chief Executive’s blog: September 2020

“GP referrals into CPCS represents a significant milestone”

By Chief Executive Simon Dukes

I was in a text exchange last week with an eminent pharmacist. “How’s it going …?” he asked. I replied: “We’re in the midst of some difficult negotiations … and with the second wave upon us, I don’t think either PSNC or pharmacy is going to have much a break anytime soon.” He responded: “How can negotiations be difficult: Matt H has promised to push money to community pharmacy, and the sector has provided fantastic service since March?”

I can’t fault his logic (and told him so). In any other sector, the customer would be grateful for the efforts their contractors had gone to – ensuring that contracted services continued despite the unprecedented challenges of a national (and international) crisis and helping vast numbers of people and patients throughout the very difficult national lockdown period. In any other sector, there would be about now a “reckoning” – making sure that all out-of-pocket expenses contractors had suffered in keeping the show on the road were recompensed. There would then follow a discussion on future opportunities given the exemplary service received and the professionalism in which it had been carried out. In all likelihood, in any other sector, the customer would commission and pay for more services – mindful of the increasing costs of doing business … inflation … salaries … COVID-19 etc. In any other sector, and particularly in the healthcare sector which is so critical in an international crisis of this nature, we would expect this to be a swift and painless process because the last thing you would want to do as a customer is to distract the contractor from the important work they were engaged in on your behalf. In any sector but community pharmacy, it seems.

As I mentioned at the LPC Conference the other week, we are still far apart on our discussions with Government on COVID-19 related costs. Despite the phenomenal work that has taken place across the community pharmacy sector, HM Treasury and others appear determined to constrain the amount of compensation that is offered to pharmacy businesses. I do understand that this news is frustrating and bewildering for many contractors on the front line: indeed the negotiations have been for PSNC also, particularly given the support and promises of Health Ministers. Nevertheless, we continue to press our case and as soon as we get some clarity, we will let you know.

The 16th September LPC Conference was the first time this annual event had been held virtually. The feedback I’ve received tells me it was a real success – the vast majority of attendees surveyed have told us that the event was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. The IT platform we used was intuitive, and the structure and content of the day was well received despite frustrations about the lack of negotiations news that we had to share. The pharmacy press thought similarly. One of the key discussion points was the David Wright Review and next steps. We are drafting a proposal for a representative group to oversee and manage delivery, timescales and costs of the next phase of the Wright Review’s findings. We will propose that the group is formed and meets during October. Further details on this will follow shortly.

It was also encouraging to hear Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Keith Ridge’s announcement at the LPC Conference of a new training and development programme, which will be open to community pharmacists, and will include a pathway to independent prescribing. We all look forward to hearing more on that topic. I’m also pleased that GP referrals into the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) will start to roll out on 1st November. This represents a significant milestone in the implementation of the service developments agreed in the Five-Year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework. It will also build the platform for longer-term relationships between pharmacists and GPs and that has to be a good thing.

And finally, I need to mention the flu vaccination service. As I have said before, this year it will be more ambitious, more flexible and more unusual than ever before. Contractors will all have a huge challenge with the numbers involved this season and community pharmacy will once again need to collaborate with GP colleagues – indeed for the first time we now have a joint incentive scheme in order to help that along. Contractors will however benefit from the changes we sought to the service requirements on consent and the flexibility to undertake vaccinations outside the consulting room and off-site.

Contractors are already reporting a massive increase in demand for vaccinations compared to the same time last year, which was to be expected, but has unfortunately meant that some patients are having to wait a little longer for their vaccinations. Whilst pharmacy teams are rising to the challenge magnificently, we also hope to be successful in securing an amendment to the Regulations to allow pharmacies to focus solely on the provision of flu vaccinations during a proportion of their opening hours. I hope that will go some way to alleviating the load for overworked staff.

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