When Community Pharmacy is midway through a consultation on a funding cut of more than 6%, today’s announcement from NHS England of a significant financial investment into GPs will feel very hard to swallow.
As we have seen so many times in the past, the General Practice Forward View does not simply place GPs at the centre of the primary care system but implies that they are the only meaningful providers of first contact care and advice and ongoing community-based support for patients. As a result, NHS England’s increase in ‘primary care’ investment in fact sits entirely with GPs. This ignores and undermines the crucial role played by community pharmacy team members and many other dedicated healthcare professionals working in primary care. If we are to meet the challenges of increasing demand, resource constraints and changing public expectations, the emphasis should be on strengthening cooperation and integration across primary care. This will not be achieved by investing in one end of the system, while making cuts elsewhere.
In the document NHS England recognises that pharmacists are ‘one of the most underutilised professional resource in the system.’ We agree wholeheartedly with this statement and underline that this includes the thousands of pharmacists and other pharmacy team members delivering excellent patient care in the community, where there is great potential to strengthen primary care provision. It would be a mistake to try to resolve this underutilisation of professional expertise by just placing a pharmacist in every GP practice, particularly at this stage when the pilot programme has yet to be evaluated. Having a pharmacist in a GP surgery is one model that may be beneficial, but there are many other ways to enhance patient care. For example, through using pharmacy teams in the community, or by properly integrating the care across pathways, so that the skills of all those patients access are utilised to the full benefit of patients.
Moves to change rules and allow NHS England to fund up to 100% of premises developments in general practice will also shock and frustrate community pharmacy business owners; these concessions that community pharmacy never sees are made to another NHS-funded providers. At the same time, the huge value that the NHS derives from private investment in the existing community pharmacy estate is overlooked, and the opportunity to use this infrastructure even more effectively to expand access to primary care is missed.
The General Practice Forward View references the Pharmacy Integration Fund. As we have discussed with NHS England, Pharmacy Voice believes that the proposed Pharmacy Integration Fund is an opportunity to build, test, refine, grow and embed innovative approaches to making better use of the community pharmacy network. This may include work on medicines optimisation initiatives, new models of pharmacy-based care and integrating community pharmacy into urgent care networks. We’re ready to work this up right now; given that general practice is about to get a £2.4bn bump, none of the Integration Fund needs to be diverted into GP accounts. If the Minister believes in community pharmacy, and he says he does, then he needs to make sure that that money, at least, is used to support integration of the community pharmacy.
Notes to editors
For further information please contact Melissa Fife Melissa.email@example.com 07894 310 551
Pharmacy Voice is an association of trade bodies which brings together and speaks on behalf of community pharmacy. Pharmacy Voice is formed by the three largest community pharmacy owner associations. Together we are a stronger, unified voice for community pharmacy.