This week has seen the long-awaited announcement from NHSBSA as to the terms of the recovery of the advance Covid Payments made to community pharmacy contractors during 2020 and the procedure for contractors to claim additional costs incurred as a result of providing community pharmacy services throughout the pandemic.
The response from community pharmacy contractors has been, at the best, luke warm with many expressing disappointment.
Head of Healthcare, James Clewlow, thought it was a good time to catch up with Sanjay Patel from Innovate Pharma Services which provide management consultancy services to pharmacy and healthcare companies to get his initial response to the announcement and his thoughts on what action community pharmacists need to be taking at this time.
J: I guess the first and obvious question to ask you, Sanjay, is what are your first thoughts on the announcement?
S: Well to be honest with you James, I think my initial response is one of disappointment – disappointment that monies are being reclaimed, disappointment that it is taking so long to resolve and disappointment that the process for reclaiming additional costs is complex and involves pharmacists in a lot of extra work at a time when the relaxation of Covid rules is likely to bring additional burden on an already overstretched and fatigued community pharmacy team.
J: That is a lot of disappointments – why are feelings running so high?
S: I think this reflects the fact that community pharmacists and their staff really have been on the front line – they have not been able to work remotely or offer a reduce services – far from it, with the demand for our services being as high as ever and this has taken a toll on the profession with a great sense of fatigue being felt by many people.
J: Can you summarise briefly the proposals in terms of recovery of payments and who will be affected?
S: Every community pharmacy contractor will have received a letter on 2nd July setting how NHSBSA intend to reclaim the advanced payments made. The letter itemised the payments which were received and details that these will be reclaimed in six equal monthly amounts beginning on 1st October. For those pharmacists that have been sold, or subject to change of ownership, since the advance payments were made the announcement indicates that where the F code (ODS code) has been retained, then payments made before the change of ownership will be reclaimed from the current operator. This would suggest that where a change of control of the business has occurred through a share sale that the advance payments will be recovered, but where there has been a change of ownership involving a new pharmacy F code, then payments made to the previous owner will not be reclaimed. I guess that any contractor should check with yourself as to how they might be affected.
J: Thank you Sanjay. That gives us some idea as to the approach for reclaiming payments, but what about claiming for extra costs which have been incurred? What is the process for making these claims? What items can be claimed for and I guess, the bottom line, how much can be reclaimed?
S: All important questions and I think an additional one would be is when can claims be submitted? I will go through each of these points separately:
Firstly I would point every contractor to the claim form which is being included on "website details" and secondly the guidance sets out four categories of additional costs that can be claimed.
- Additional staff costs due to Covid 19
- Costs for making premises Covid secure
- IT and communication costs to support remote working and virtual patient contact
- Notified closures as a result of infection control procedures.
As to how much can be claimed, the NHSBSA withdrew a previous proposed cap so there is no limit on what can be claimed, however, the important thing is for contractors to keep records of what items they are claiming for so if they are asked to do so at any time they can support and substantiate in full the monies claimed. I am currently advising a number of contractors on how to progress their claims and one of the first things I am saying to them is put your evidence pack together now with as much detail as possible to clearly identify the additional costs incurred.
J: Have you any advice on what sort of items should be included?
S: One of the things I have noticed already, and this is partly due I think to contractors already being under great pressure, is that people are not considering carefully enough the extra costs they have incurred, put simply, they are forgetting to include the obvious. There is going to be a great difference in what pharmacies can claim depending on their location as they will each have been affected in different ways. For example, extra costs in a rural setting may be very different to those incurred in a surgery base pharmacy where the GP practice has been operating remotely. What has been announced is that multiple outlet operators can submit one claim but for these operators they need to think how the apportion extra head office costs incurred and how delivery/vehicle costs should be split across branches.
J: What about timing for submitting claims? Should contractors be getting their claims in now?
S: There is a small window in which to submit claims which expires on 15th August. What I am saying to contractors is prepare the claim now, but wait to submit it so that you can take into consideration any additional guidance that may emerge over the coming weeks.
J: Final question, and this is one I have been asked by a number of our clients who are single, hands-on operators, who have worked a large number of extra hours, but because of the way they remunerate themselves (they can't pay themselves overtime) their concern is that they cannot evidence the extra costs incurred. Do the additional payments help them in anyway?
S: A good question and, on the face of it, they will have a problem in supporting their claim although I am working with a number of contractors on exactly this point so probably best to ask me this question in a month's time.
Sanjay, thank you for this and I guess it goes without saying that if anyone wants to contact you on any of this they can do and that you will only be too happy to help. I will take you up on the offer and we will have a catch up in a month's time to see what additional guidance has been given.
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