Court of Appeal to hear National Pharmacy Association case on health inequalities

21 May 2018

The National Pharmacy Association will this week present its case to the Court of Appeal, arguing against a £321 million cut to community pharmacy funding imposed in 2016. The NPA argues that the Department of Health (DH) failed to properly consider the impact of the cuts in deprived areas.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has a legal duty to reduce health inequalities under the National Health Service Act 2006.  Section 1(c) of the Act states that “in exercising functions in relation to the health service, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to reduce inequalities between the people of England with respect to the benefits that they can obtain from the health service”.

Last year a High Court Judge ruled that DH was mistaken in its understanding of the duty to reduce health inequalities when making decisions about the NHS. He also made a point of noting the wide range of services delivered by pharmacies in some of the most deprived communities in the country.  However, he concluded that “with some regret” he was nevertheless unable to quash the decision to impose cuts.

The NPA points to an inherent illogicality in allowing the original funding decision to stand, despite the Court’s finding that DH had misinterpreted the section 1(c) duty.

NPA Vice Chair, Andrew Lane, said:

“Pharmacies are disproportionately located in deprived areas – a rare exception to the so-called inverse care law under which people with the highest needs have the least access to advice and treatment.  The High Court judgment vindicated our stance on health inequalities and we now want to see that flow through to a logical and fair conclusion. Had the Department of Health properly considered the impact of its cuts, it would have realised that the cuts will ultimately have a disproportionate effect on people living in the most deprived areas of England, where there is already a lack of NHS provision.”

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) is also appealing the High Court decision, and their case will also be heard in the Court of Appeal this week.  The hearings begin on 22 May and are expected to last for three days. No date is fixed for the verdict.