The Welsh Assembly has announced that it will maintain funding for community pharmacy over the next two years, just days after the UK government revealed severe budget cuts for the sector in England.
Health Minister David Mowat told MPs last week that community pharmacy in England will see its budget slashed by 4 percent to £2.7 billion in the year 2016/17, with a further reduction in funds of 3.4 percent planned for 2017/18.
He claimed that "every penny saved by this re-set will be reinvested and reallocated back into our NHS to ensure the very best patient care", but the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said the move is "damaging to the sector" and "will adversely affect the ability of pharmacies to provide patient care".
In a statement, Vaughan Gething, Welsh cabinet secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, sought to reassure pharmacists in Wales by stressing that the health and social services budget in the country for the current and next financial year "does not include any proposals to reduce investment in community pharmacy".
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has applauded the move. "This is a welcome intervention from the Cabinet Secretary at a time when pharmacists in Wales are concerned about funding reductions in England", it said. "The two year commitment to funding community pharmacy in Wales is a testament to excellent patient care that pharmacists are providing to patients and the public."
However, Gething did also highlight the "opportunity to reflect on whether the considerable investment we make in the sector currently, delivers a community pharmacy service which will meet the needs of the people in Wales in the future".
Maintaining the current level of investment "will be conditional on new arrangements for community pharmacies," he said, noting that new arrangements "must ensure that community pharmacies: provide a greater range of clinically focused services demonstrate a commitment to improving service quality; contribute to reducing medicines waste; utilise skill mix and automation more effectively to release time for pharmacists to deliver pharmaceutical care, both in and out of the pharmacy; and commit to workforce development and improvements in IT infrastructure".
A consultation on how these priorities will be delivered and how pharmacies in Wales will begin the transition to a more clinically focused service from April 2017 will now be undertaken, he said.