Pharmacies offer ‘extra’ services as funding falls
PHARMACISTS are being forced to offer extra services including botox and skincare in order to survive amid a drop-off in government funding.
Chemists are turning to providing ear wax removal, lip fillers and travel vaccination clinics to “make ends meet”, and have urged more financial support as they deal with increased costs and workforce pressures from the coronavirus pandemic and cost of living crisis.
Amish Patel, a pharmacist in Kent, told Eastern Eye: “NHS funding is non-existent at the moment. Costs are going up exponentially, there is an ever-decreasing drug margin, energy bills, the cost of living crisis.
“I ventured into medical aesthetics – botox, fillers, skincare – it is relatively lucrative service. It requires a certain skill set and we look to make £200 per hour.
“We also have been doing an earwax removal for the past two years.”
The King’s College graduate, the son of a pharmacy owner, added that pharmacy bosses used to get an Establishment Payment for having a contract and the Global Sum funding pot has decreased.
He said: “Three to four years ago, they did a deal with the government of no increase in funding, a flat rate.
“We need to be recognised and integrated into the primary care network. GPs were given grants of £50,000 to employ a pharmacist, [so] give us £50,000 to employ a pharmacist.
“[Also] why can’t pharmacists have access to an NHS pension to attract staff?”
His comments came as free of charge Covid testing for most members of the public ended on April 1. People now have to pay for a lateral flow test at pharmacies in England (although there are some exemptions). Ministers said vaccines and antiviral drugs were protecting people from the effects of severe Covid illness as universal free testing came to an end in April.
Research in March showed that community pharmacists saved almost 20,000 lives up to autumn 2021 through Covid vaccines.
The findings by the National Pharmacy Association said 71 per cent of jabs were administered until the end of October, compared to an initial target of 56 per cent.
Professor Mahendra Patel, an honorary visiting professor at the University of Bradford, said he has seen community pharmacies now offering blood pressure services, help and support to stop smoking, weight loss management, healthy living and travel vaccination clinics.
He told Eastern Eye: “It is squeezed tight, the workforce isn’t out there. A lot of them are working under strain, and they are not getting help.
“They are also part of the Minor Ailment Scheme, so people don’t have to go to the doctor or queue at A&E, in order to keep afloat and make ends meet.
“Covid hasn’t helped with the reduced workforce. There are higher demands, financial pressures.
“Morale is not the best, but pharmacists have risen to the challenges. But without remuneration, it becomes an uphill task.”
Last year, the All-Party Pharmacy Group of MPs launched an inquiry into the future of the sector in the wake of the pandemic.
More than 200 chemists shut in 2020, with many more slashing their hours, according to the NHS Business Services Authority, leaving it harder for patients to access medicines.
In England during 2020-21, there were 11,600 community pharmacies. While 236 new ones opened, 451 closed, leaving numbers at their lowest levels since 2015-16.
Jignesh Patel, an independent pharmacist and part of the North-East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said he provides a range of private and NHS services.
He added: “For pharmacies to provide services, the pharmacist needs to be well organised and must be able to manage time well and have the right support of their team.
“This requires investment in time, and additional resources which, for a lot of pharmacists, can be difficult as they are under-resourced, under-staffed and overworked with the huge increase in workload due to Covid-19.
“I have invested into trying to help pharmacists to overcome some of the barriers to deliver services which include a free website and booking platform.”
Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said many were developing their private service offering to expand the range of support available beyond the NHS.
He added: “Among the most popular private services offered are travel jabs and point of care testing. Others are pushing the boundaries in terms of aesthetics.
“Pharmacies are no longer just a place to pick up prescriptions – people are sometimes surprised by the range of support available, both privately and on the NHS.”
Mike Dent, from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, told Eastern Eye it was concerned about the potential for funding and other pressures to force pharmacies to close temporarily or permanently.
He added: “Pharmacies are currently making massive efficiency savings in order to keep delivering the services that are set out in their NHS contractual framework.
“Pharmacy staffing costs have grown significantly in recent years, and the upcoming increase in the national minimum wage will further contribute to the cost pressures. However, unlike other businesses, pharmacies are not able to pass their costs on to their consumers.
“In order to ease financial pressures and avoid patient services being cut, pharmacies need to be fairly funded by the NHS and government.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government has committed “more than £2.5 billion a year to support community pharmacies to ensure they can continue to provide high-quality care to patients”.
“While the number of pharmacists on the register increases every year, we continue to monitor the impact of the recruitment of pharmacists into primary care networks, and are working closely with the sector.”