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C+D's open letter to new pharmacy minister Steve Brine

C+D editor James Waldron lays out three areas where the minister could make a real difference

Dear Steve Brine MP,

On behalf of Chemist+Druggist (C+D), I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as minister with responsibility for community pharmacy.

Pharmacy is a sector of healthcare professionals unsurpassed in their dedication to patient care. But it is also a sector that feels severely undermined by its own government – and is in sore need of reassurance and support.

Over the last eight months, pharmacists in England have had to come to terms with the reality of harsh funding cuts. These cuts flew in the face of an unprecedented show of support from patients for the sector – including a petition that garnered more than two million signatures – and were based on spurious analysis that has since been thrown into disrepute in the High Court.

While devolved governments in Scotland and Wales regularly voice support for pharmacists, this has not been reflected in Westminster recently. I hope that you will use your appointment as minister to redress this, and to this end, I have laid out three areas where I feel you could make a real difference to the lives of pharmacists and the wellbeing of their patients:

  1. The government should re-evaluate its attitude to pharmacy funding in England. At C+D, we receive stories on an almost daily basis of pharmacy owners forced to decide whether to cut their staff or much-needed services – such as free medicines deliveries to vulnerable patients – in order to survive the shortfall in funding. To regain pharmacists’ faith in the government’s intentions, politicians should work with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) to produce a funding framework that is fair, realistic and sustainable. Pushing this agenda would be your chance to make your mark.

  2. Pharmacists across the UK continue to face the threat of criminal prosecution for an inadvertent dispensing error. This issue returned to the fore following the prosecution of Northern Irish pharmacist Martin White for an inadvertent error in December 2016. Pharmacists are expected to be open and honest about any errors they make, but this expectation is unrealistic when the threat of a jail sentence hangs over them. While a legal defence from inadvertent errors for pharmacists and their staff has been in the parliamentary works for a number of years, we seem no closer to it becoming a reality. This ongoing issue would benefit from a minister with your political clout throwing their weight behind it.  

  3. Finally, in its 2017 manifesto, your party pledged to “support more integrated working, including ensuring community pharmacies can play a stronger role to keep people healthy outside hospital, within the wider health system”. C+D welcomes this intention. To ensure that this is not seen as an empty campaign promise, I urge you to meet with PSNC, the National Pharmacy Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and – most importantly – grassroots pharmacists to make this pledge a reality.

As you will see from the range and quality of winners and runners-up at our C+D Awards last week, community pharmacists are passionate, resourceful and keenly focused on the needs of their patients. With the support of a forward-thinking minister such as yourself, the sector could achieve its true potential.

Yours sincerely,

James Waldron

C+D Editor

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