By Chief Executive Janet Morrison

Spring is supposedly the season for new beginnings. But how are community pharmacy owners supposed to have any time or energy for that? So many businesses are in a desperate position – both financially and operationally – as the cost of living, workforce and primary care crises continue to impact on our sector. The consequences are devastating.

So it’s little wonder that the reaction to the Government’s Primary Care Access Plan from some of you has been anger. In our webinar last week one of you told us that it was simply ‘terrible’. While the investment is significant – and taken together with the £100 million margin write off in the autumn it amounts to three quarters of a billion pounds coming into the sector; a significant sum in a very restricted public spending environment, and more money than any other part of primary care is receiving as part of this plan – we need to get it into pharmacies fast, and there must not be impossible strings attached.

This is the backdrop and the clear focus of our Negotiating Team. The team is made up of pharmacy owners like you, from independent pharmacy, the independent multiple sector, and some of our largest multiples. They are meeting several times a week to go through the propositions that are on the table, analyse impacts and develop our own proposals and arguments, and then working through them with NHS England and the Department in the working groups that are the forum for the real negotiations. This is where we push towards our strategic aims of getting as much of this money to the front line as quickly as possible, and in a way that as many pharmacies as possible can manage.

Alongside this work, our eye is still on the future as we expect to consult you all again very soon on the strategic vision work that Nuffield Trust and The King’s Fund are doing for us. We were pleased to see the Government acknowledging this project and looking forward to its results in their Access Plan. We are also continuing our political campaigning, including joint work with other bodies and professions. We have started our governance review process. And if you are reading this blog you will likely know that we have also now changed our name to Community Pharmacy England with an impactful new brand.

Informed by branding experts, the full Community Pharmacy England committee have overseen this important change, and thank you to everyone who engaged with it – telling us what PSNC was doing right and wrong, and more importantly what you wanted from us in the future. As well as giving us a more authoritative name and branding, meaning we can more easily influence and be taken seriously on your behalf, the rebranding marks the beginning of our new relationship with you, pharmacy owners, our members. We have heard that you need to feel more connected to us and our work, and more listened to, and that we need to influence more powerfully on your behalf. Our new branding embodies all of that, coming alongside a commitment from everyone here to shifting the ways in which we communicate and engage with you. It won’t be perfect from day one: change is rarely a linear or quick process. But we are committed to it. I know some of you have already recognised the signs of the changes – there are more to come.

And I hope that our Government and NHS are going through a similar process. After laying down their cards with the community pharmacy funding cuts in 2015 they have shown few signs of wanting to invest more in pharmacies. Even getting your COVID-19 related costs covered took a very public battle before they released any funds. But this month for the first time in many years Ministers have listened and reacted to our calls – they may not have given us enough, but they have taken a clear step to try to help us. Recognising that we can help them with their challenges, but that this needs funding.

I hope you can see all of these developments as the signals that they are. We are becoming the stronger representative that you want to see and to be more connected with. And Community Pharmacy England will fight hard to make the most of the chink of light that the NHS and Government have this month shown to community pharmacy. It is not the immediate relief that you need and there is a huge amount of work to be done to try to get that, but it is more than a hint of some new and positive beginnings.

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