“The cuts will mean that patients, many of them elderly and unable to travel long distances, will be forced to go elsewhere for essential medical advice and support. What we need from the Minister now are the details of how many pharmacies will close,” MP for Leicester South, Jonathan Ashworth, who led the motion, told MPs.
Community pharmacy is “effectively the frontline of healthcare”, said All Party Pharmacy Group’s chair Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, raising concerns that one in four pharmacies could close as the result of the cuts.
Alistair Burt, MP, told Parliament that he regretted estimating that 3,000 pharmacies could close as a result of the proposed cuts when he was pharmacy minister. The figure was based on a worst-case scenario, he said, before additions were later made to the package, and that he now felt it was not possible to say how many pharmacies might close.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health David Mowat defended the Government’s actions, quoting chief pharmacist Dr Keith Ridge in saying that the changes will support community pharmacy to develop new clinical services.
“It is my belief that there will be a minimal amount of closures,” said Mr Mowat, pointing to the impact analysis that is based on 100 closures. Asked whether independent pharmacies would be more vulnerable to closure than multiples, he replied, “in terms of these proposals we have to be blind to ownership.”
During the course of discussions, Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, described community pharmacy arrangements in Scotland, a model that Mr Mowat has recently said he finds of interest. She had concerns that the cuts in England were “random,” with no clear mechanism for moving pharmacies in England toward a more clinical role.
Profits reported by privately owned, multiple pharmacy businesses came under criticism several times during the debate.
In response to the vote, PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe said that support from MPs for the idea of a pharmacy-led national minor ailments service was positive.
“Once again today we have seen support from across the House of Commons for the work that community pharmacies do up and down the country. This is no surprise, as MPs will see first-hand the value that their constituents place on local pharmacies and the services they offer,” said Ms Sharpe.
“We were pleased to see that the debate explored some of the myths circulating regarding the Government’s proposals, and many MPs pointed a clear way forward. The Government was held to account over its claims that the funding cuts will have no impact on patients. And they can no longer say that investment elsewhere in primary care will somehow replace the vital pharmacy services being offered at the heart local communities.
“The next step is for the Government to make the right decision and invest money cut from pharmacy budgets into a national minor ailments service,” she said.
NPA chairman, Ian Strachan, commented: “The injustices and the absurdities of the government’s plans were utterly exposed. The poorest communities will be hit hardest, and that was laid bare in this debate. There was also a very strong theme of support for independent pharmacies – which are part of the fabric of communities and are bound to feel the brunt of the pain meted out by the cuts.”
He supported the need for a national minor ailments scheme.