Caroline Flint

Standing up for Don Valley.

Savour our Local Pharmacy

A lot of residents signed the "Save our Local Pharmacy" postcard campaign.

Here is my view of the Government's plans.

We are all very worried about the future of our pharmacies.

Whilst the NHS is going to be under pressure for some time, and GPs waiting times rising, the government’s decision to cut both the number of community pharmacies and their capacity seemed like the last thing we need.

Pharmacies offer flexible opening hours, home delivery services and the potential to advise millions of patients in many towns and villages in Don Valley.

The Government proposed reducing the overall budget by £170m in this financial year, with more cuts likely to follow. Up to 3,000 pharmacies would close. Ministers claimed there are too many across particular parts of the country. With the terrible health outcomes, and numbers living with poor health, I hope Ministers do not think Doncaster’s outlying towns and villages have too many pharmacies.

A 6.1% funding cut will be compounded by the expanding volume of prescriptions being processed from fewer outlets. I spoke two pharmacies in the same village that issue 5,000 prescriptions between them each week!

The government’s latest move is to encourage the development of large-scale automated dispensing, such as ‘hub and spoke’ arrangements. Ministers are also considering extending the duration of prescriptions to keep down the number of visits to pharmacies. Neither is the answer to this problem.
The expansion of community pharmacies began under the last Labour Government. And it has been a real success. When I was the Minister for Public Health, we expanded smoking cessation advice, methadone support, sexual health treatments at pharmacies, and Labour developed services aimed at maintaining independence for vulnerable users, including home delivery of compliance aids. I believe we have only scratched the surface of the additional, local services pharmacies can provide to give value for money to the NHS and to patients.

Latest research shows that one in every thirty A&E visits and one in twenty GP appointments could be done via a community pharmacy. This would save the NHS £1billion and ease pressures on GPs and A&Es. Given that the 95% four hour target for A&E has been missed every month bar one since August 2014, cutting pharmacies instead of using them better is clearly misguided.

Community pharmacists relieve pressure on other parts of the NHS. If pharmacies are forced to close, nine out of ten consultations would end up in the local GP surgery, at greater cost. There would be no saving.

Increasing a prescription’s length of time may reduce visits to a local pharmacy, but may be a false economy. Patients often give up a course before they reach the end, so longer prescriptions would only compound the problem of medicine wastage.
Instead of cutting community pharmacies, Ministers should be doing all they can to increase the capacity to help patients, increase accessibility and reduce the load on hard pressed primary care and hospitals.

This makes sense in a modern, integrated NHS. I and Labour MPs are pressuring the Government to shelve these plans and to do more to support our NHS locally, including community pharmacies.

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