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NPA survey: cuts to worsen NHS winter strain

Looming pharmacy cuts will place an already pressurised NHS under greater strain this winter, a newly published NPA survey suggests. The survey of 250 independent pharmacies reveals that cuts to local funding will lead to a severely curtailed medicines service, with reduced access likely to become a reality over the coming months – typically the busiest time of year for pharmacy and other health services. This is likely to result in reduced opening hours and scaling back on a range of services, including home delivery of medicines to housebound patients.

The survey shows that cash flow challenges could force three quarters of NPA member pharmacies to reduce their service offering before April next year, meaning those with seasonal ailments may have to turn to General Practice and A&E this winter.

NPA chairman Ian Strachan said that while closures of up to a quarter of pharmacies in England have been predicted, the Association’s survey “shows that there could be far more immediate effects”, as stores “would have few options to reduce their cost base quickly beyond cutting staff levels and reducing opening hours” – placing greater strain on other parts of the health service.

He added: “The cuts will begin to take effect just as pharmacies are entering the busiest period of the year, as well as this being the busiest period of the year for other parts of the health service. The immediate concern is for service levels over the crucial winter period when demand is at its highest because of seasonal illness.

"Local pharmacies play a crucial role in soaking up pressure on General Practice by providing support for self care, offering health advice, urgent medicines and opening extended hours.”

The survey reveals:

  • 86 per cent of pharmacies are likely to limit or remove ‘free’ services (for example home delivery of medicines to housebound patients)
  • 81 per cent are likely to restrict services that help elderly people live independently in the community (e.g. medicines compliance aids)
  • 54 per cent are likely to reduce opening hours (limiting access and putting more pressure on GPs and A&E)
  • 93 per cent are likely to put planned investment in service developments on hold
  • 94 per cent are likely to put planned investment in premises or capital equipment on hold
  • 93 per cent are likely to put planned investment in staff development or recruitment on hold
  • 86 per cent are likely to reduce staffing level from their current level
  • 94 per cent are likely to redirect resources in to profit-making (i.e. non-NHS) services
  • 77 per cent are likely to become more retail focused (going against the Department of Health’s declared intention of making more pharmacies more service focused)
  • 76 per cent will be forced to reduce opening hours and/or services to some degree before April 2017.

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