By Chief Executive Janet Morrison

Less than three weeks into 2024 it is already apparent what a critical year this will be for community pharmacies as you continue to battle for survival – including in the face of imposed Category M reductions – and get ready for the launch of Pharmacy First. Our focus remains on supporting you through that service launch and with ongoing delivery of Pharmacy First, while also continuing to fight for the further investment and help that you need.

Negotiations have not yet begun on the 2024/25 Contractual Framework, but we understand that we should expect to hear from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England imminently. These discussions had been due to start last year, but the No. 10 reshuffle, bringing with it a new Secretary of State and Pharmacy Minister, pushed this back.

We are working on the assumption that this negotiation will be for one year – fitting in with the Spending Review timeframe which has one further year to run.  We also believe that the Spending Review will provide financial constraints on what can be expected in 2024/25, as it sets the parameters for all public spending. That said, pharmacy owners will not be surprised to hear that Community Pharmacy England will be asking, as we have been doing in public and private for many months, for an uplift on the core global sum in the 2024/25 contract, reflecting the impact of cuts on the sector over the past five years, inflationary and other cost increases, and the grave state of sector finances.

We will also be arguing for write-off of any historic margin over-delivery. In addition, we will be arguing for an agreed mechanism for regular funding increases linked to activity and inflation; annual uplifts to service fees; and for more fundamental reform of the margin delivery framework and an economic review of the medicine supply chain. Work to make the case for all of this more widely with Parliamentarians and others also continues.

I know that everyone in the sector will be anxious to hear more and many of you have already asked me what I think the outcome of these upcoming negotiations will be. Quite rightly, you need to know what the outlook for your businesses is, and I make this point repeatedly to the NHS and to Government.

We do not expect these negotiations to bring significant clinical service proposals from Government and the NHS having had the recent addition of the Primary Care Recovery Plan funding for Pharmacy First, blood pressure and contraception services. But at this stage it is hard to predict the outcome from the negotiations and what we can expect in terms of an overall uplift.  We know that we have strong evidence of the need for this given inflationary pressures and the deep cuts that the sector has experienced, but the pressures on public finances and the experience of other primary care contract negotiators are also evident.

We will update you as soon as we are able to. We still hope it may be possible to conclude negotiations ahead of April, but as ever that is dependent on the Government’s timescales. If an agreement is not in place by April 1st then we will issue further information at that point.

Looking further ahead, we have no indications on the scope and duration of the next CPCF after 2024/25 at this stage: given the General Election happening this year it is impossible to predict the approach that Government will take to the next Spending Review and funding for the NHS. Throughout the year we will be continuing to argue and campaign for the long-term investment that community pharmacy desperately needs, including work across all the key political parties so that we are in the strongest position possible as we enter into discussions and negotiations with whatever Government emerges from the Election.

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