With both GPs and hospitals already under strain and patients being urged to turn to pharmacies to relieve the pressure, the latest announcement from the Department of Health that they will be slashing NHS pharmacy funding has come as unwelcome news to the sector.
In plans described as ‘myopic’ by opposition parties, the department will cut up to 7% from funding over the next two years – reducing funding by 4% from 2016-17 and 3.4% in 2017-18.
While the government had previously estimated that cuts would lead to the closure of 3000 high street pharmacies, health minister David Mowat now claims that he believes there is a possibility none will close at all and stated that the cuts were simply designed to make use of taxpayers’ money more efficiently. Former minister Michael Gove also suggested that the department was placing patient care before private profit.
However, the cuts have been widely attacked, both by the opposition and NHS and pharmaceutical heads. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee had warned earlier this year that such cuts were ‘madness’ that could lead to chaos as more people were forced to turn to already oversubscribed GPs and hospital services.
Opposition parties also rejected Mowat’s claims that no pharmacies would close as unrealistic, warning that the cuts would likely lead to hundreds or thousands of closures.
“The Government’s belief that cutting funding for community pharmacies will improve efficiency in the NHS is a complete false economy,” said Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb. “These myopic plans will further increase pressure on GP surgeries and hospitals that are already buckling under the strain of limited resources and unprecedented demand for services.”
With many NHS services already underfunded and short-staffed, and some of the busiest times of the year around the corner, the likelihood is that the brunt of the pressure will fall on GPs, A&E services, and the locum workers so desperately needed at these times.
If the opposition is correct and thousands of high street pharmacies close, these already strained services will be pushed to their limits – potentially giving the government increasing ammunition on the road to privatisation.
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