Dear Prime Minister,
At Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) this week, you told MPs that there has been a 'massive increase in pharmacy spending'. You also implied that pharmacies are not part of the health service front line, and therefore less deserving of public investment than doctors, nurses and A&E.
Prime Minister, you have been poorly advised.
Pharmacies are front and centre of the health care system in this country. 1.6 million people visit pharmacies every day for treatment and advice. Pharmacies are the best first port of call for the vast majority of health concerns. There is no more accessible health care professional than your local pharmacist. People have access to advice from trusted professionals, without an appointment, in neighbourhoods right across the country. What is more front line than this?
You have also apparently been misinformed about the level of investment in community pharmacy in recent years. I suspect that your comment about a massive increase in pharmacy spending actually refers to the medicines budget (the drugs bill) rather than the cost of providing pharmaceutical care in pharmacies. The medicines budget is indeed rising steeply, and community pharmacists have great potential to help the taxpayer get better value from that expenditure – by helping patients to get the best use of their medicines and reducing medicines waste.
You may be aware that three quarters of a million patients and concerned citizens have already signed a petition against recent Department of Health proposals which put pharmacy services at risk. The petition continues to grow at a rate of 30,000 signatures every day. These people know the true value of local pharmacies, which are vital community assets. I only wish the same could be said for the officials who have so misled you, when preparing for PMQs.
I might add that you also claimed yesterday that there is 'a specific scheme to help' rural pharmacies. That is also untrue. In fact, there is merely a promise to consult on a scheme to maintain access.
May I respectfully ask that you take an early opportunity to correct on record the misinformation you gave to parliament?
More importantly still, please ask your health ministers to think again about the disastrous course of action they have recently embarked upon in relation to community pharmacy. It is a dangerous experiment which could see local pharmacies close, thereby reducing people’s access to pharmaceutical and healthcare advice, and putting extra pressure on GPs and hospitals. At risk is a part of the health system that holds the key to solving many of its problems. Patients would be the biggest losers, including some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Chairman, National Pharmacy Association