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Pressure on Government over Covid costs ramps up

“Thousands of pharmacies are facing closure because the Treasury is insisting they repay emergency cash that it gave them to help stay open during the pandemic. The NHS vaccine rollout and autumn flu jab drive will be at risk if high street pharmacies giving them out are forced to shut, industry leaders warned this weekend,” says an article in yesterday’s Sunday Times (May 25).

The article continues the pressure on the Government from pharmacy bodies to resolve the twin issues of the Covid-related expenses incurred by pharmacies in England and the £370 million loan made to the sector last year.

Last week saw the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) urging pharmacists to lobby their MP to support a cross-party letter to the health secretary Matt Hancock. The letter called for a more sustainable funding framework for community pharmacy. As a result, “this weekend dozens of MPs and peers from all parties waded into the row by writing to [the chancellor] Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock”, according to the Sunday Times.

PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes told the newspaper: “Pharmacy teams have never worked harder than in the past year, and they have never been relied on more by patients and the rest of the NHS. And this hasn’t stopped – pharmacies are still helping the Covid-19 vaccination programme and they’re now a key player in the provision of NHS Covid tests. Why the Government would reward them for their loyalty by putting their livelihoods at risk, is a question I don’t have an answer to.

“We’ve been negotiating on Covid costs since July last year, and the feet-dragging by HM Treasury is scandalous. Pharmacies need answers, and they need to be treated as the critical healthcare providers that they are.”

Meanwhile, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies chief executive Leyla Hannbeck has drawn attention to a story in last week’s Health Services Journal which said that the NHS is scrambling to avoid an underspend of the £18bn of additional funding it received to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

She called upon the Government to put the money to good use and to pay pharmacies for their outlay in maintaining services throughout the pandemic.

Ms Hannbeck described the news that NHS England faces an underspend running into billions of pounds, along with reports that local finance chiefs are being instructed to “mask the surplus using justifiable accounting treatments, for example by being ‘especially prudent’ when estimating future costs”, as “shocking”.

What was especially galling, she said, was that the NHS was looking to community pharmacies to provide more services to relieve strains elsewhere in the NHS, such as GP surgeries and A&E departments. “We’re delighted to do more but we would like a sign of goodwill. Using the surplus to help us would be a good way to start,” said Hannbeck.

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