Seven pharmacies are expected to stop providing substance abuse services in Southwark after funding was cut in half. 

Southwark Council funds pharmacies in the borough to provide clean needles and supervised drug taking – mostly methadone – to reduce the risk of death or overdose.  

Pharmacies can opt in or opt out of providing the services and can choose one or two. 

But after reviewing the funding as the contract comes to a close, officers found that Southwark was paying out twice as much as Lewisham and decided to reduce the payments to be in line with the neighbouring borough.  

Explaining the cuts at a health and social care scrutiny commission meeting last week (February 27), Professor Kevin Fenton, strategic director of place and wellbeing and director of public health at the council, said the public health grant has been decreasing year on year.  

“This has meant we have been having to make some tough decisions across our portfolio. 

“As you’re aware, the public grant fund is not just alcohol and drug services but children and young people’s well-being services, sexual health services, and a range of mental health and well-being activities,” he told the commission.  

Health consultant Farrah Hart, who co-wrote the report on the changes, said: “We realised we were spending twice as much as Lewisham. 

“What’s the difference between their pharmacies and our pharmacies? Why can’t we ask for the same lower price?” 

She said that currently Southwark pharmacies get a standard fee just to take part in the needle exchange service.  

“We were paying pharmacies a retainer every year just to take part in the service and we’d give them money on top for giving out the kits. 

“When we looked at it we saw that some pharmacies were getting the majority of their money from the retainer. They weren’t actually giving out the kits at all.  

“With that in mind we thought we should change the way we do those payments and have it as a fixed fee per item basis.  

“The more items you give out the more you get and you don’t get a retainer.” 

Out of the 18 pharmacies that provide the supervised  service, 15 would accept the new payments, which were cut in half.  

Out of the 14 that provide the needle exchange service, 10 would like to continue. 

However, Ms Hart said she was “confident” the pharmacies would be replaced.  

“We have pharmacists in the borough who currently don’t do the service but who are quite interested in joining if the existing providers decide to drop out.  

“In terms of people being able to access the services we’re fairly confident that the coverage will be the same or similar,” she told the commission.