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Government failing pharmacy as it grows ‘weaker and weaker’, APPG chair warns

While the government "continues to fail" pharmacists, the sector grows "weaker and weaker", newly appointed all-party pharmacy group (APPG) chair Taiwo Owatemi has said.

Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate yesterday (November 22) on NHS staffing levels, Ms Owatemi – who was appointed APPG chair earlier this month – told MPs that retaining pharmacists is "vital to the long-term health of the NHS as a whole".

However, she warned that "until the government tackle the issues of low pay, poor working conditions and a lack of opportunities for career progression, I fear that we will see a weaker and weaker pharmacy sector, which none of us can afford".

However, this issue, is "not specific to pharmacists but applies to all healthcare professionals", she acknowledged.

Ms Owatemi, who is a locum pharmacist herself, told MPs: "I know first-hand how important pharmacists are to the provision of healthcare across the country, yet the government continues to fail those key workers."

Read more: Pharmacist and Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi appointed APPG chair

Referencing a survey published by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association earlier this year, she added that "almost a quarter of pharmacists want to leave their current sector and move to another part of pharmacy".

"Of those, almost a third are considering leaving pharmacy altogether," she noted, citing "low, and stagnating pay and working conditions" as reasons pharmacists are seeking a change.

"The longer the government ignores the exodus of pharmacists to other industries, the more money it will cost to recruit and train new staff," Ms Owatemi warned.


Government "talks the talk about investing in the NHS"


In July, the Health and Social Care Committee, which is led by now-Chancellor Jeremy Hunt published its report calling for an “integrated and funded” pharmacy workforce plan to be developed and laid before parliament within the next year.

The report – co-created by Ms Owatemi, who sits on the select committee as a member – "recommended that the government better utilises the pharmacy workforce", she told MPs yesterday.

Read more: What does the autumn statement mean for community pharmacies?

"Community pharmacists are willing and eager to take on more responsibilities in order to become the first port of call for patients and take the pressure off overburdened GP surgeries," Ms Owatemi explained.

However, while the government "talks the talk about investing in the NHS", if they remain "unwilling to take the necessary steps", patient waiting times and dissatisfaction "will continue to grow", she warned.


Committee’s recommendations "completely ignored"


The pharmacy workforce plan should also take into consideration that all newly qualified pharmacists will be independent prescribers by 2027, the select committee’s report said.

These pharmacists should be given protected learning time, the right amount of supervision and opportunities to develop their careers, it recommended.

But "the government has completely ignored that call", Ms Owatemi told MPs.

Read more: ‘Last man standing’: How will NHS strike action affect community pharmacy?

"I know, from my own experience, that far too many in the industry feel that those opportunities are sparse at the best of times.

"Like everyone else, pharmacists need to know that there are chances for growth and the acquisition of new skills in different areas," she added.

While the government has "repeatedly" said it is "serious about supporting pharmacists", she acknowledged, she urged it to make this "a priority".

In October, Elliot Colburn, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and newly appointed APPG officer, criticised the government for the way community pharmacy is funded at the Conservative Party Conference.

Meanwhile, after the funding deal for years 4 and 5 of England’s Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework was unveiled in September, pharmacy bodies branded it "hugely disappointing", "devastating", and "fundamentally under-resourced". 

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