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Mowat goes head-to-head with MPs over pharmacy budget

Pharmacy minister David Mowat was forced to defend the planned cuts to the sector's funding from opposition MPs during a parliamentary debate this week.

Labour MP Michael Dugher tabled an urgent question in parliament on Monday (October 17), following the government's proposals to slash pharmacy funding in England by 12% for December 2016 until March 2017.

During the debate, MPs questioned Mr Mowat (see box) on how many pharmacies could close as a result of the cuts, how the drop in funding could impact the sector’s ability to ease NHS pressures, and how vulnerable patient groups could be affected.

Mr Mowat emphasised the government has spent “the past ten months trying to get this right”, and referred to the GP pharmacist scheme, as a way the government intends to “embrace the pharmacy profession”.

On Tuesday (October 18), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) raised a number of questions in response to the minister’s remarks during the debate. It called Mr Mowat’s denial that 3,000 pharmacies could be at risk of closure “not credible”.

“Most recently the government has retreated from its previously stated aim and said that there is no intention to close pharmacies although they ‘recognise pharmacies may close as a consequence of their proposals’,” the negotiator said.

“We do not believe this change of position is credible in the face of the approach taken in the proposals,” it added.

Labour MPs Mr Dugher and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth penned an open letter to Mr Mowat on Tuesday (October 18) calling for him to clarify the “glaring factual inaccuracies” he made during the debate.

The Department of Health had to clarify Mr Mowat’s comments on the minor ailments scheme funding, after the minister alluded to a “nationally commissioned service”.

Here are some of the questions Mr Mowat faced on Monday, and his responses:

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South and shadow health secretary

Q: As the minister knows, his predecessor talked of the potential for up to 3,000 pharmacies to close. Is that correct? 

A: We do not believe that the number will be anything like that big. In some areas, there are 10 or 11 pharmacies within half a mile of each other. Leicester, Birmingham – we can talk more about this. It is quite possible that at the end of the review, some of those pharmacies will merge. 

Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley and all-party pharmacy group chair.

Q: You said that an impact assessment will be published, so that it would inform the final decision. Can the minister tell us when that will be published? Will it be shared with representatives of community pharmacists?

A: As my predecessor [Alistair Burt] said, an impact assessment is being produced, and when these proposals are published in their entirety, that will be published at the same time.

Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North

Q: We cannot keep loading, even on to the willing shoulders of the community pharmacies, more and more responsibility while we are draining away the financial lifeblood. Would the minister care to become the most popular minister on the high streets of our nation by saying that he is going to have another look at this nonsense?

A: I am always keen to be popular, but I am also keen to do the right thing. Nobody is talking about thousands of pharmacies closing and I do not believe that will happen, but we have talked about hiring 2,000 more pharmacists in the GP sector. 

Twitter reaction to the debate

Result

Which of your pharmacy's services may you have to reconsider if the funding cut goes ahead?
Medicine deliveries to patients' homes
39%
Preparing blister packs
19%
Filling dosette boxes/MDS
29%
Other services
6%
None - our services will not be affected by the cuts
8%
Total votes: 155

What do you think of the minister's remarks?

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