Community pharmacies are “shutting their doors for good” due to a £1.2billion funding shortfall, industry leaders have warned MPs.
Plans for chemists to become the front door to the NHS will not reach their full potential unless problems with core funding and a “broken” contract are addressed, the Commons Health and Social Care Committee heard.
Dr. Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said many pharmacies were heavily in debt and having to “raid into their pensions and personal funds” to pay rent, energy bills, and other costs.
She added: “There is currently a shortfall of £1.2billion pounds in core funding and unless that shortfall is addressed, many community pharmacists are struggling to keep their heads above the water.
“We’ve always been very, very open with the government that if community pharmacy is supported...funded appropriately, we want to be there to be a solution.”
From next month, women will be able to get the contraceptive pill from some pharmacies without seeing a GP.
And chemists are expanding services for blood pressure checks and supply of other medicines that previously required a GP visit.
Estimates suggest the “Pharmacy First” drive will free up 10 million GP appointments per year.
But Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said ministers were not being ambitious enough.
He said: “Our research in 2022 showed that community pharmacies could easily take on about 42 million GP appointments.
“So there’s a huge upside still to go in terms of what community pharmacies can do.
“The real challenge facing the sector is that whilst there’s new money available to deliver new workload, which is good, the funding for existing workload - the 80-85% of what community pharmacies currently do - is chronically underfunded.”
Mr Harrison also told MPs the current NHS pharmacy contract was “completely broken” and “not fit for purpose”.
The terms were agreed in 2014 and community pharmacies have since seen a 30% real-terms funding cut, he claimed.
Mr Harrison said: “We have got to a point now where NHS work doesn’t pay.
“A lot of businesses are now struggling to make any money and are having to close. So I think a review is probably not enough.
“We need to really have a look at the core principles, what is it the NHS wants community pharmacy to do? How much can they afford? And then making sure that the two meet.”
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The sector leaders also warned that pharmacists were facing “anger and aggression” from patients over drug shortages.
Dr Hannbeck said the medicines reimbursement system was too complicated and chemists too often left out of pocket when prices fluctuate.
Mr. Harrison said manufacturers were prioritising the global market due to a lack of funds in the UK, which then “bumps up the price”.
He added: “The current pot available to pharmacies to source medicines for the NHS, more than 1.75 billion items a year, hasn’t changed in the last 10 years, even though the number of items has gone up and the cost of medicines has gone up.
“So the allowable margin that community pharmacies can make hasn’t changed.
What we’re seeing is a continual squeeze of the margin.
“We need a simplified and more stable model that allows businesses to understand what their cash flow is going to be.”
“We have also announced £645 million in additional funding to support community pharmacies to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions, which will free up GP capacity.
"We are also making it easier for patients to see their GP and in September there were 135,000 more appointments per working day compared to a year ago.”