Pharmacy fights for a brighter future


Sigma Pharmaceuticals directors Kamal Shah (left) and Bharat Shah (right)
Sigma Pharmaceuticals directors Kamal Shah (left) and Bharat Shah (right)

The future of community pharmacy was the subject of an eventful Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Among the subjects tackled before an audience of community pharmacists, pharmacy politicians and pharmaceutical company executives was the government’s cuts to pharmacy funding, which has caused a furore, the drugs shortage, hub and spoke dispensing and the future of community pharmacy representation.

An analysis carried out by IMS Health identified 315 pharmacies in England, mainly in London, which it said were at “high risk” of closure because of the cuts. The study was based on NHS and pharmacy income data.

The clouds hanging over pharmacy, however, cleared somewhat when a leading healthcare lawyer said a successful legal challenge could compel the government to put its funding cuts on hold and even force ministers to reimburse pharmacies for money taken as part of the budgetary reduction.

Judicial reviews by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) will be heard next month as the pharmacy profession fights the government’s £170 million cuts.

“If either of the judicial reviews is successful, there will certainly be a need for reconsideration. The judge is then likely to say there is the need for the Secretary of State to go back and take the correct factors into account,” said David Reissner, senior healthcare partner at Charles Russell Speechlys.

The government also plans to introduce a hub and spoke dispensing model, whereby patients’ medicines would be dispensed in remote central hubs rather than in the pharmacy. Critics believe the plans would endanger patient health by reducing pharmacists’ contact with patient, others think it will take away community pharmacy’s traditional supply function.

Ian Strachan, the chairman of the NPA, said that threat had not gone away and vowed his organisation would continue fighting against the plans.

“The hub and spoke agenda hasn’t gone away. That agenda to drive 66 per cent of the volume through hub and spoke, is still there, it’s still very much alive,” he said. “Just because they say ‘that’s the way it’s going to be,’ I’m not going to accept that.”

Alistair Burt, the former minister responsible for community pharmacy at the Department of Health, said a lack of clarity over who spoke up for the sector weakened its case during funding negotiations.

Urging community pharmacy to “sort it out,” Burt said via video link: “Going back to the negotiations, I wasn’t a personal player in the negotiation room but was represented by a whole departmental team. At an early stage, I was made aware that pharmacy has many voices.”

Bharat Shah, the managing director of Sigma, said the survival of independent community pharmacists depended on them getting together with one voice. He also revealed that Sigma will fund a PhD project at the University of Bath “to create a model of pharmacy in the year 2025.”

“This project I hope will capture the social, financial and professional model of pharmacy in the UK in the year 2025. This report will take three years and when available I hope to present it to the Department of Health, regulators and the market generally,” he said.

Rajiv Shah, sales and marketing director at Sigma, said the company’s new state-of-the art distribution centre next to its Watford headquarters will improve the company’s efficiencies and enable the wholesaler to provide better service to customers. Rajiv announced a raft of new services to help pharmacists better manage their businesses and trade more profitably in the face swinging cuts to pharmacy income.

This was the ninth annual conference hosted by Sigma Pharmaceuticals, the country’s largest independent pharmacy wholesaler. Over three hundred delegates attended the week long conference which ended on Friday February 19th. During the week, delegates heard from leading figures in the industry including the pharmacy minister David Mowatt, Sue Sharpe, CEO of the PSNC and Warwick Smith, director of British Generic Manufacturers Association.