Pharmacy minister Jo Churchill has confirmed that the Government is considering additional funding to meet the costs incurred by community pharmacy during the pandemic.
Addressing the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies’ virtual conference earlier today (Thursday December 10), Ms Churchill said: “I can’t pre-empt the outcome, and given the current economic situation, the discussions will be tough, but I am fully committed and fight the corner at every opportunity. The potential of community pharmacy is part of the equation – how much more could you deliver if you were able?”
She thanked pharmacy teams for their efforts during the crisis: “Now more than ever, people recognise how valuable community pharmacy is, what an asset it, is and what a valuable and approachable part of the NHS it is and how important it is for all of our lives.
“Community pharmacy deserves more recognition. Your resilience and determination, the way you have stood up, has been outstanding. The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of community pharmacy has part of the broader health service.”
Ms Churchill said the Government remains committed to the vision for community pharmacy in England set out in the five-year deal agreed last year, although some elements have been delayed due to the pandemic.
“That vision of community pharmacy integrated in the NHS, delivering more clinical services, being the first port of call, raising that profile of pharmacy and taking pressure off the other parts of the NHS, utilising the knowledge and skills of the people in pharmacy is really important to help the wider community and to give those delivering roles more satisfaction,” she said.
The NHS is facing a number of challenges as the first Covid vaccines are rolled out, Ms Churchill said. “With flu vaccines for the over 50s being rolled out, the role of community pharmacies has been vital. You have vaccinated more people than ever before by this point in the year; more individuals than in the whole last year.
"We’d like your help to reach more of the priority cohorts... and reduce pressure on other parts of the health system, this really is a team game.” She highlighted social care workers as those who might specifically be reached by the sector.
Asked by AIM chief executive Leyla Hannbeck about the loss of trained staff to primary care networks, Ms Churchill said she recognised the challenge. “We want to see pharmacists in GP practices, helping to deliver optimum care, but we also need them in community pharmacies, so I recognise the challenge. We need to make sure the pipeline is good,” she said.
“Secondly, making the pharmacist’s role a more clinical one is really important, so you don’t have to look at only one place for that kind of role. I’d also like a more cohesive environment and collaboration around PCNs to ensure that everybody is working together in a different way.”
On the Covid vaccine roll-out, the minister recognised that many community pharmacies would be unable to provide the Pfizer vaccine directly, although some would, but she wanted to support pharmacists, as trusted, knowledgeable individuals, in giving out information on the benefits of vaccination.