Would pharmacies do better under a Labour government?
Conservative candidate for Tamworth Andrew Cooper’s response to a crushing by-election defeat in October is probably a strong indicator of where his party is headed in the next general election. A stunned Cooper stormed off the podium before his Labour rival Sarah Edwards had got through the first sentence of her victory speech, anxious to lick his wounds away from the glare of the cameras.
This show of poor sportsmanship was just for starters, as the same day saw the Tories’ biggest majority overturned when Mid Bedfordshire fell to Labour too. Of course, by-elections sometimes follow their own logic; both votes had been triggered by Conservative incumbents departing in colourful circumstances, which perhaps slanted local attitudes.
But it’s hard not to believe that consistent polling data forecasting a Labour win next year is on the mark. And if power does change hands at the next election, pharmacy teams will be keen to know what to expect from a new administration. Will Labour curb the rate of pharmacy closures in England? Can it tackle the shortages crisis? And will it have any more money to spend?
We don’t yet have an election manifesto from Labour, but we do have a set of five ‘missions’ published earlier this year that includes proposals for getting the health service ‘back on its feet’. The plan talks a big talk about going beyond the Conservatives’ ‘sticking plaster proposals’ to expand the role of community pharmacies, but what detail there is actually suggests Labour will carry forward work started under the current government, such as encouraging pharmacists to devote more time to medicines optimisation and less to dispensing, and bringing about proper digital interoperability.
However, Wes Streeting clearly has a progressive agenda for primary care that may include tilting some funds away from hospitals and towards GPs and other local providers. Labour’s plans for a Community Pharmacist Prescribing Service sound a bit more ambitious than Pharmacy First, or whatever we’re calling it this week. And there’s always the chance that a fresh, enthusiastic intake can make swifter work of its goals than the Tories have managed in these latter years. Not to mention the fact that in pharmacist MP Taiwo Owatemi, the party has an eloquent and engaged champion of the sector.
A potential changing of the guard was among the many topics discussed at the Pharmacy Show in October, where AIMp chief Leyla Hannbeck called on the sector to make a strong pitch to Labour ahead of the election so pharmacies don’t find themselves at the back of the queue. She believes Labour has a “different approach” to the sector and that Streeting is willing to listen – all of which is to the good.
I’m hedging my bets. With public finances already so strained, a Labour administration probably wouldn’t have it in its gift to restore us to 2015 funding levels even if it wished to. And medicines shortages are a Europe-wide issue – if not global – so solving them may be a tall order for any one country.
But if Streeting and his colleagues can inject genuine optimism backed up by more than warm words, then I’m all for it.