The final insult: Niamh is back and in no mood for festive pleasantries

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David Mowat recently announced, in Parliament, details of imposed funding for community pharmacy. ‘Community Pharmacy Funding Package – The Final Package’ details a £113 million reduction for 2016/17, which will take total funding to £2.687 billion for the 16/17 financial year. This is a deficit of 4% compared with last year, but – in reality – will mean that contractors will witness an average decline of 12%, between December 2016 and March 2017, compared to current levels.

Further reductions will follow in 2017/18, equating to £2.592 billion for the financial year – a drop of 7.5% from April 2017. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

As part of the package, the Department of Health will make changes to the way funding is distributed, introducing quality payments and a Pharmacy Access Scheme (PhAS). It’s also about to get busier – the Government has recently announced a ‘urgent repeat medicines’ supply pilot, along with plans to refer NHS 111 callers, with minor ailments, to pharmacies – relieving pressure on GPs and A&E. 

PSNC’s Chief Executive, Sue Sharpe, said the cuts were extremely disappointing, but not a surprise given the lack of genuine consultation. I totally agree and, what’s more, the ‘final package’ is beyond vague. It all amounts to a tough time ahead for contractors trying to navigate gateway criteria and quality indicators.

To be eligible to collect the points necessary to claim the quality payments, contractors must meet four of the ‘gateway criteria’. These include the provision of at least one specified ‘advanced service’; up-to-date NHS Choices; ability for staff to use NHS mail and utilisation of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).

These criteria are largely indecipherable. It would be useful to know which ‘specified advanced service’ the government pertains to – as far as I know it has not been specified anywhere. NHS Choices have to be up-to-date – fine, I’ll give them that one! The requirement for contractors to send and receive from an NHS email address, however, is laughable, given NHS England’s unwillingness to provide one. I’d also love to know the definition of ‘ongoing utilisation’ – would a single EPS script per month count? One can only speculate.

These measures are laborious and will be difficult to meet in time for the first payment claim date in April. The government will need to make some clarifications, or we are simply left to hope that the ‘final package’ isn’t quite so final. If it doesn’t change, there won’t be many contractors left to receive funding next year.  

Niamh is Clinical Development Manager at Superdrug. Please note, these are Niamh’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the Superdrug business.