By Chief Executive Janet Morrison
The changing of a year is often a time to reflect on the past 12 months and consider hopes and ambitions for the months to come. So I would like to take a moment to share my pride in what the community pharmacy sector has achieved in 2023: delivering a huge number of services for patients despite ongoing pressures, getting its voice heard in the media more than ever before, and, of course, the agreement of a national Pharmacy First service alongside the most significant investment in community pharmacy for well over a decade. This year has been pivotal for us, but it couldn’t have happened without the unwavering dedication of pharmacy teams, showing their resilience during a time of crisis.
It’s no secret that things have been extremely tough for pharmacy owners and their teams as they battle immense financial and operational challenges. Our 2023 Pharmacy Pressures Survey found that the majority (96%) of pharmacy owners were facing significantly higher costs than the previous year, most (97%) reported significant increases in wholesaler and medicine supply issues, and many (92%) had seen a big rise in requests from patients unable to access General Practice. We’ve also seen a recent wave of consolidations and closures across the sector. And so, at the end of another difficult year, I want to thank all my community pharmacy colleagues for the work they do for patients and communities every single day – it makes a world of difference to them.
In the current pressurised atmosphere it can be really hard to be optimistic about the future, but there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. The Vision for Community Pharmacy, developed by leading the influential healthcare think tanks Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund, has set out a bold plan for the sector. It has provided us with a powerful influencing tool and the implications of this are being considered alongside the wider development of a strategy for Community Pharmacy England. This work, coupled with a Pharmacy Inquiry by the Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee, will prove critical in determining how we can transform community pharmacy to become what the public, the NHS, and the Government need it to be.
And then there is the new Pharmacy First service – the most strategically significant service in many years. £645 million is a critical injection of funding and a welcome vote of confidence in our future from Government and the NHS. The introduction of Pharmacy First and expansion of contraception and blood pressure checking services are a big step forwards for community pharmacies and their patients, and we have been delighted to hear the positivity about it from so many pharmacy owners across the sector. At the time of writing over 2,400 pharmacy staff have participated in our advice webinars and several thousand more have signed up for the webinars that will continue over the coming month.
But this is by no means the end of the road. It’s the start of a great deal of effort – with a huge amount of information to absorb, training and systems to put in place in pharmacies across the country. We understand that this comes at the most challenging time of year for the sector responding to winter pressures, delivering vaccinations and responding to demand for medication and health advice.
We do not underestimate the operational challenges and hard work that implementation will entail. Community pharmacies are struggling to cope with the ongoing pressures. We will all need to work together to make Pharmacy First a success, and the team at Community Pharmacy England are keen to support pharmacy owners and their teams on this journey. There is already a lot of work going on to support the launch during this period – service specifications have been agreed, the tripartite implementation group has begun its work, and we’re busy updating resources and organising webinars.
We are also only too aware that however welcome this investment, it is not the panacea for all our funding woes. It’s clear that we have reached a tipping point with many pharmacies struggling to stay afloat – and that we need a significant increase to the core funding contract to ensure sufficient pharmacies stay are open to provide the Pharmacy First service and meet patients’ needs.
Building on this essential role of community will help to strengthen our case, and the imperative for, sustainable funding in future. We therefore must succeed in this service – both to support the public and to prove our place at the heart of primary care. Community pharmacists and their teams are more than capable of doing this, and we have been calling for it for so many years, but, ultimately, it will help pave the way for bigger prizes in the future.
A new year is a time of resolutions and hope, which we can embrace as we work towards a better future for our sector. This is primarily focused on continuing to press for further investment through our influencing and advocacy work programme. Just this month we expressed deep concern about the increase in the National Living Wage, briefed MPs about the impact of winter pressures at a Parliamentary event, and co-ordinated letters to the Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary calling for urgent consideration about how the sector is supported. This is all in preparation for when we get back in the negotiating room to start discussing what the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) will look like from April 2024. This was delayed by the recent change in Ministers, but we expect to receive the DHSC/NHSE mandate imminently.
I’m not sure many working in community pharmacies will feel that they have the time to stop and reflect in the same way, but I hope you all do find some time to rest and be with your families. Season’s greetings and happy new year to all my community pharmacy colleagues.