YOUSAF’S PLEDGE: ‘We will continue to invest and ensure we adequately fund community pharmacies

By Bill Heaney

The Community Pharmacy Scotland board has described the financial settlement that it has been offered as “derisory”, an MSP told the Holyrood parliament today.

The First Minister Humza Yousaf was quick to describe community pharmacies as “a key point of access to national health service healthcare”.

He told his SNP colleague: “They provide the right care in the right place at the right time.”

However, the FM has been slow coming up with the cash to keep them viable.

He explained this: “Discussions are on-going with Community Pharmacy Scotland on the financial settlement for 2023-24. We will build on the increased funding that we have provided for community pharmacy services year on year for the past five years.

“That has delivered more than £25 million in additional remuneration funding. We have also recently added an additional £20 million to the value of the drug tariff this financial year to address the increase in the costs of medicine.”

Retired school teacher Christine Grahame gave her boss a slap on the wrist for his hesitant answer. She said: “I hope that discussions conclude shortly, recognising the key role that community pharmacies play in sustaining the health and well-being of our constituents.

“On his line about delivering the right care in the right place at the right time, does the First Minister agree that, with their expanding professional services, pharmacies also ease pressure on general practitioners and even accident and emergency services, emphasising, yet again, their key role in our health service?

The First Minister said: “Christine Grahame is absolutely right that pharmacies provide an exceptional service, whether through the minor ailment service, the pharmacy first service or the range of other services that they provide and whether they are small independent pharmacies or part of larger chains.

“To give her some level of reassurance, I say to Christine Grahame that we are committed to continuing to fund those vital services. For example, since its introduction, the pharmacy first service has become established as a key part of the remobilisation of the NHS.

“I am grateful to all pharmacy contractors and staff for continuing to support that vital element of primary care in Scotland. It is funded separately, but current annual funding of £30.8 million is allocated for pharmacy first, including £10 million of new funding that was invested between 2020-2021 and 2022-23.

“I agree with Christine Grahame about the excellent services that are provided by pharmacies right across the country. As I mentioned in response to her first question, discussions and negotiations with Community Pharmacy Scotland are on-going and we are hopeful that we will get to an agreed position.”

But that didn’t get Humza off the hook.  Labour’s Carol Mochan said the FM had p;previously promised in a written response to a question that  the previous financial package ensured the “continuous expansion in the quality and number of services that can be offered by community pharmacy contractors to local communities.”

She added: “Following a new offer made by the Government that he now leads, we are being warned that opening hours may reduce and services may be cut back. How has it gone so badly wrong on his watch, yet again? Will he personally meet community pharmacy representatives to resolve this important issue?”

The First Minister responded: “The pharmacy sector is not immune to the high energy and inflation costs that are affecting everyone in every business up and down the country. We have called on the United Kingdom Government to do more; it has not done enough to address many of the issues that are of its making.

Christine Grahame, FM Humza Yousaf, Sandesh Gulhane and Carol Mochan.

“It is within our gift to ensure that we give appropriate resource funding to pharmacy services here in Scotland. We have increased funding for community pharmacy services year on year for the past five years. In Scotland, the Government spends £52 per person per year on pharmaceutical services. Spending on that is not as high where Carol Mochan’s party is in charge. If we look at England, where the Conservatives are in charge, the figure is £46 per person.

“We will continue to invest and to ensure that we adequately fund pharmacies up and down the country. I am very grateful for the services provided by pharmacies and pharmacy staff the length and breadth of Scotland.”

Conservative health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane was swiftly put down by the FM when he claimed: “This development, described by the First Minister as ‘recent’, took place just yesterday. It was community pharmacists who said that the offer was ‘derisory’ when they rejected it, which was before that money was put in. However, I welcome the money, which follows pressure from Community Pharmacy Scotland and myself.”

Humza Yousaf told MSPs: “I remind the chamber that Dr Sandesh Gulhane has nothing to do with the negotiations with Community Pharmacy Scotland. The investment comes from the Scottish Government; the health secretary and the minister for public health are involved in those discussions with Community Pharmacy Scotland.

“I will make sure that we continue to fund pharmacies and pharmacists up and down the country to the level that they require.

“They are facing challenges because of the pressures of inflation, high energy costs and energy bills. There are also some global factors that are affecting medicine prices. That is why the Scottish Government gave an additional £20 million to the value of the drug tariff in the current financial year.

“We will continue our engagement with Community Pharmacy Scotland. I am very grateful for the excellent services that it provides the length and breadth of Scotland.”

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