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Government progress on pharmacy ‘requires improvement’, warns Expert Panel

25 July 2023

The Committee’s independent Expert Panel evaluating Government commitments on pharmacy has found that overall progress ‘requires improvement’ across a number of areas.

Evidence shows that demand for community pharmacy services has increased significantly with community pharmacies struggling to deliver services within the existing funding model, or even to remain open.

Community pharmacy was one of five policy areas examined by the Panel along with integrated care, hospital pharmacy, workforce education and training, and extended services. Experts found that available funding was not sufficient to keep pharmacies open, struggling financially with increased demand for dispensing, workforce pressures and rising costs due to inflation. One of the other commitments requiring improvement covered a scheme intended to protect access to local physical NHS pharmaceutical services in areas where there were fewer pharmacies.

A commitment by Government to eliminate paper prescribing in hospitals and introduce digital or e-prescribing across the entire NHS by 2024 was rated ‘inadequate’ overall. Experts found that poor ‘digital maturity’ was partly responsible and reported that even prioritised funding for IT systems was insufficient.

On workforce education and training, the report ranks a government commitment to roll out a three-year education and training programme for primary care and community pharmacy professionals as requiring improvement, with providers unable to afford to pay to backfill staff sent on courses. A commitment to make legislative changes to improve the skill mix in pharmacies and enable the clinical integration of pharmacists has not been delivered and was rated ‘inadequate’ overall.
Out of nine commitments separately evaluated over five areas, two were rated as ‘good’, five as ‘requires improvement’ and two were ‘inadequate’.

Please see page 11 of attached Expert Panel’s Report for detailed ratings in evaluation.

Chair comments

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, Chair of the Expert Panel, said:

“Pharmacy plays a key role in the delivery of care so it’s disappointing that progress overall to deliver on the Government’s commitments was rated as ‘requires improvement’.
“We’ve found community pharmacies to be at particular risk with the existing funding model unable to prevent some high street pharmacies facing closure and others struggling to provide services in the face of rising demand and increasing costs.

“A Government pledge to move entirely to digital or e-prescribing across the NHS by the end of 2024 was overly ambitious. We found inadequate progress in the delivery of this commitment due to the lack of joined-up digital infrastructure in the NHS and Social Care.

“On workforce, the Government has made no headway with a commitment to better integrate pharmacists within a clinical team with progress rated again as inadequate. When it comes to training and education, we looked at a commitment to roll out a new three-year education and training programme for community and primary care professionals, unfortunately there was insufficient funding available to send staff on courses."

Steve Brine MP, Chair of the Health and Social Committee, said:

“This report from our Expert Panel makes for sobering reading. The Committee is holding a separate inquiry considering what the future of pharmacy could look like because there’s real potential for innovative work and to truly see community pharmacy at least as part of the primary care model.

“Success will rest on resolving challenges around funding, the digital infrastructure, and crucially, workforce skills and training.

“The level of detail about progress by the Government so far will feed into our work and, ultimately, help shape the recommendations we make to Ministers.”

Further information

Image credit: Tyler Allicock / UK Parliament