Pharmacy organisations have reacted largely positively to the improved settlement agreed with the government for the reimbursement of the costs community pharmacies in England incurred during the Covid pandemic, although concerns remain over the long-term viability of the sector.
After months of uncertainty, PSNC told contractors yesterday that they can claim any expenses incurred during the period between March 2020 and March 2021. The latest terms also include non-staff costs and claims must be submitted to the NHS Business Services Authority between 5 July and 15 August.
Claims can be made for additional staffing, costs to make premises Covid-secure, IT and communication to support home working and virtual patient contact, and notified closures for infection control purposes for up to 14 days.
PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes conceded the deal was “not quite” what pharmacy’s negotiator had asked for in November last year although he said it would give “every contractor a fair chance at having their costs covered”.
However, the terms include a requirement that community pharmacy pays back the £370 million in advance payments received last year. Those repayments will be taken in six equal monthly sums from October.
The English Pharmacy Board chair Thorrun Govind welcomed the terms on Covid costs as “positive” but cautioned that pharmacies need a “more sustainable long term funding solution” if they are to “continue to provide essential health services for patients”.
“PSNC made a strong case for reimbursement alongside MPs, the All-Party Pharmacy Group and national pharmacy organisations, and whilst this is not the ideal arrangement, it’s much improved. Funding not only impacts the mental health of pharmacy teams but also patient safety,” she said.
“It has been a really uncertain time for many and the delay on this decision has caused enormous stress as many contractors feared having to repay the money would put their livelihoods at risk.”
The National Pharmacy Association chief executive, Mark Lyonette, said its members should not have had to resort to “battle buses, petitions, newspaper campaigns and public protests” to secure a decent costs settlement and insisted the focus must now be a pharmacy contract that is “seriously underfunded”.
“This is no more than our members deserve - after all pharmacies bore Covid costs in good faith that they would be repaid,” he said. “It’s now really important that contractors claim all that is due to them within the July 5-August 15 window. The NPA will provide support to our members, most of whom do not have a big back office to carry out the task of accounting for costs.
Raj Nutan, the head of Alphega Pharmacy UK, said: “Notwithstanding the issues surrounding the advance payments, overall we recognise the work PSNC has done in getting a decision and welcome that at long last there is a recognition by the government of the costs pharmacies have had during this difficult Covid-19 period, with community pharmacy going above and beyond, as always, for the UK patients.
“The Alphega Pharmacy team will be monitoring and awaiting the detailed guidance from the Drug Tariff with further input from PSNC. In the meantime, we stand ready to support all of our pharmacists in any way we can to ensure they can appropriately, accurately and effectively claim their costs within the time window.”
The Pharmacist’s Defence Association said: “We’re pleased there is some movement in the government’s position, but there needs to be a greater understanding of the potential that community pharmacy has to do more for the health service, and in order to realise that opportunity the funding needs further review.”