The gloom enveloping community pharmacy was lifted during the first day of the Sigma Pharmaceuticals conference in Rio de Janeiro when a leading healthcare lawyer said a successful legal challenge could compel the government to put its funding cuts on hold and pay pharmacies back money taken as part of its budgetary reduction.
Before an audience of community pharmacists and pharmaceutical company executives at the Sheraton Hotel in the Brazilian municipality, David Reissner, senior healthcare partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, said the government will be forced to restart its consultation on the cuts if judicial reviews launched by the pharmacy sector, due to be heard next month, are successful.
Two judicial reviews have been launched, one by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and one by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) as the pharmacy profession tries to put up a fight against the government’s £170 million in cuts to its budget over two years.
The PSNC’s legal action is based on what it regards as the government’s unlawful consultation on its cuts and the NPA’s action revolves around ministers’ failure to properly assess the impact of the cuts on groups such as the elderly and black and ethnic minorities.
“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,” Reissner told over 300 pharmacists gathered at the conference.
“In the NPA’s case he may say to the Sectary of State ‘you’ve got to go back and look at things again, taking into account those equality issues and comply with your public sector equality duty.’
“Similarly, if the PSNC’s case is upheld, the likely implications are that the consultation is not valid and therefore there has to be a proper, new consultation with sufficient information. The minimum (length) for a consultation is 12 weeks. That means restarting the consultation process with the PSNC and others being able to respond on the basis of the information they now have from the impact assessment.
“If the impact assessment (is found to be invalid) and relied on an insufficient financial analysis or too small a financial sample, they may have to redo the impact assessment. That will take an even longer process. I think you’re looking at the cuts being put on hold.”
When asked if pharmacy can expect to retrieve any money taken as a result of the cuts if the government is forced to restart its consultation, Reissner said: “If the judicial reviews are successful and the minister has to halt the cuts, for example restart the consultation process, yes, I would expect, through some mechanism in the Drug Tariff, there will have to be a restoration of the cuts.
“But over a long period, exactly when would depend on how that works and how long it takes to go through this process.”
As part of its legal defence Reissner said he expects the government to insist its consultation did not provide evidence that the cuts would force pharmacies to close. He also expected the government to say that the Department of Health provided sufficient information to enable the PSNC to respond.
The opening session of the Sigma conference also heard from Claire Ward, the chair of Pharmacy Voice, the pharmacy trade body which is to disband next year following the withdrawal of support by the NPA. Ward insisted she would not “dwell” on the split and, in a typically passionate speech, challenged the pharmacy sector not to allow the government to divide it.
Fin McCaul, a leading pharmacist recently elected as north western regional representative on the PSNC, also urged community pharmacies, many of which are endangered by the government’s cuts, to continue providing high quality patient care, especially around minor ailments and management of long-term conditions, despite a sense of injustice engulfing the profession.
“You need to be working on outcomes with patients. It’s really tight at the minute and it’s probably going to get tighter,” he said.
“If we are looking at some of the (health) outcomes (at) the Department of Health, it’s pretty shocking. Now we can take some ownership of that problem or we can leave it alone and ignore it. I guarantee if we don’t take ownership of the problem, somebody else will.”
McCaul said just 16% of patients in England prescribed a new medicine take it as intended, leaving a huge opportunity for community pharmacy to ensure that figure rises. He added that £300 million worth of medicines are wasted in primary care each year.
This is the ninth annual conference hosted by Sigma Pharmaceuticals, the leading pharmacy wholesaler. Theme of the conference – Raising the Bar – chimed well this year pushing to be better integrated within the NHS.
The conference attracts some of the top pharmacy speakers and this year was no exception with talks by the Pharmacy Minister David Mowat, Sue Sharpe CEO of the PSNC and former pharmacy Minister Alistair Burt.