Community pharmacies braced for cuts announcement

Worried elderly patients at a pharmacy
Image caption Patients at a pharmacy in Wiltshire are worried about possible cuts to its services

As new government ministers begin their work, one decision that is being keenly awaited is the possible sign-off to budget cuts for High Street pharmacies in England.

The Department of Health says the changes are an opportunity to bring pharmacists' skills closer to GP practices and care homes.

But trade bodies fear thousands of pharmacies could close, with the supply of medicines becoming a purely logistical, automated, operation.

At Kennet Pharmacy in Marlborough, Wiltshire, which has been run by the same family for 50 years, there was a steady stream of customers and patients during a typically busy weekday morning.

Half the market town's 8,000 residents have signed a petition to support community pharmacies - the petition garnered more than two million signatures nationwide.

'Pretty lean'

One of the pharmacists, Nick Jephson, who runs the business with his brother Tim, said: "We went into pharmacy to help people. Giving out medicines is about trust.

"Pharmacy has met its efficiency targets and saved the NHS £11bn in the past decade, so we're pretty lean.

"This isn't about turning a profit - it's about keeping our heads above water.

"There seems to be a policy mismatch. The government puts out adverts telling people to avoid A&E and their GP, and go to pharmacies first - and yet they're pulling the rug out from under our feet."

Image caption The National Pharmacy Association says the plans are a "dangerous experiment"

The Jephsons have set up a display stand, warning patients of the prospect of reduced opening hours and possible cuts to their medicines delivery service.

Their NHS contract provides 85% of income, with the rest coming from sales in the shop.

Marlborough also has a branch of Boots - but elderly customers in particular are worried.

Many are on first-name terms with their pharmacist. They say it can take three weeks to get a GP appointment.

Val Pinker told me: "I'm on permanent medication. If I'm not feeling well, I ring Tim first. I don't bother with the GP surgery."

'Amazon-style' deliveries

But the Department of Health says 40% of pharmacies in England are in a cluster with at least two others 10 minutes' walk away.

Talk of developing large-scale automated dispensing has raised fears that localised skill and care could be replaced by an "Amazon-style" delivery service.

A spokesman from the National Pharmacy Association said: "The Department of Health is conducting a dangerous experiment which could see local pharmacies close. Patients would be the biggest losers.

"Alistair Burt's successor as pharmacy minister should be given the opportunity to thoroughly review the Department of Health's plans before any steps are taken towards implementation."

The government's consultation has now closed - and unless there's a sudden change of heart, the £170m funding cut will take effect in October.

The head of economics at the Health Foundation think tank, Adam Roberts, said: "Pharmacy services are having to do their bit and do more every year, as we're seeing across the whole health service.

"Having to do that with reduced funding is a real challenge. You shouldn't underestimate the scale of that - it's being felt in pharmacies also across the whole NHS."

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites