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Minister: Pharmacy closures not a sign of Government failure

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Minister: Pharmacy closures not a sign of Government failure

Health minister Nick Markham has said Government policy will not be to blame if the trend of pharmacies being forced to close in England continues in the coming years.

In a House of Lords debate on Wednesday May 17, Labour peer Richard Allan said England has “seen hundreds of community pharmacies close over recent years” and asked parliamentary under-secretary of health and social care Lord Markham: “If this trend is not reversed and there are even fewer community pharmacies in a year's time, would it be reasonable for us to see this as a failure of Government policies?”

Lord Markham replied: “No. What I want to be tested on is how many people are using their pharmacies for primary appointments – that is the real measure. I think we will see a marked change [with the upcoming Pharmacy First service] and we will see it as a real convenience.

“The fact that this will drive more footfall to pharmacies will mean that more pharmacies will probably gain extra business and stay open.

“We have 24,000 more pharmacy workers than in 2010 – there has been an increase in that number since then.”

When pressed by Liberal Democrats peer Paul Scriven on the “poaching” of community pharmacists by primary care networks and a £1bn shortfall in sector funding, Lord Markham replied that he did “not recognise those numbers” and cited the recent announcement of £645m investment over two years.

Lord Markham also spoke on the provision of blister medicine packs, which Labour peer Margaret Wheeler described as an “essential core service” that “is being withdrawn from hundreds of chemists across the country”. 

Baroness Wheeler asked: “Are the Government saying that, in the future, it is okay for the complex task of sorting out daily medicine doses to be yet another burden placed on unpaid carers, on top of everything else that they have to do?”

Lord Markham replied: “NICE and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society are clear that they do not recommend widespread adoption but prefer a case-by-case basis. There are many examples of where blister packs are not appropriate: some pills cannot be stored next to each other, some pills need to be stored in their original packaging and some blister packs cannot have more than four pills. So it is clear that you need a case-by-case review to make sure of what is right for the patient.” 

While he acknowledged that for “many people” blister packs are “the right solution,” he also said there are “many cases of wastage” of elderly patients’ medicines, arguing that this is “one of the major reasons why blister packs are not always the right solution”.

Asked whether automation can be used to provide blister packs safely, he replied: “If there are automated ways, I am absolutely all for them. 

“This is a complicated area, given the number of permutations of pills that can be there in each circumstance. I have not seen those solutions, but I will look into them.”

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