I was in the Commons last week to hear the Minister make a statement on the future of community pharmacy. MPs like myself who represent a mix of rural and urban communities could see why reform of this vital service has become necessary. Community pharmacy does what it says on the tin and does it very well but the current funding system is out of date and inefficient. It does not always encourage quality over quantity, not does it promote the integration with the rest of the NHS that we – the patients as well as many pharmacists themselves - would like to see.
The first thing to note is that although overall funding is being reduced (by 4% in 2016/17 and a further 3.4% in 2017/18), this does not, repeat not, represent a cut in the NHS budget; every penny saved will be reallocated elsewhere within the NHS.
But the structure of pharmacy funding will change. The current fixed payment of £25,000 a year regardless of size, quality or local demand, will be phased out and payments for quality will be introduced. This means that for the first time we will be paying pharmacies for the quality of service that they are providing, not just the volume of prescriptions they dispense. Alongside this, the aim is to integrate pharmacies more fully into the frontline of patient care, ensuring for example that patients who need urgent repeat prescription medicines will be referred directly to community pharmacies rather than GP out-of-hours services, as well as ensuring that all pharmacies will be able to provide minor ailments services, again taking the pressure off other parts of the NHS.
Many pharmacies in urban areas are within walking distance of at least one other pharmacy. But this does not apply in our rural villages where people may be dependent on one high-street outlet. The vital service that these provide has been recognised and an additional fund put in place to protect them and ensure continued access for patients in these communities.
In the Minister’s words, the future for community pharmacy is bright. These reforms will hopefully see it continuing to do what it says on the tin for the foreseeable future.