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APPG chair: ‘Clear’ health sec does not understand pharmacy

APPG chair Taiwo Owatemi has questioned whether the health secretary and the government “understand” the pharmacy sector’s needs and capabilities.

Ms Owatemi made the comments after quizzing health secretary Steve Barclay on pharmacy at a Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) meeting last week (January 31).


Elected chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) in November, she quizzed Mr Barclay on Pharmacy First and the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) policy towards pharmacy closures.


Speaking exclusively to C+D following the session (February 2), Ms Owatemi described the health secretary’s responses to her questions as “disappointing”.


“It was very clear to me that he didn't understand,” she said.


She went on to question Mr Barclay’s and the DH’s knowledge of the sector and its capabilities.


She asked: “Do you actually know what community pharmacists do? Do you know what is within the pharmacy curriculum? Do you understand pharmacy in order for you to be able to fully utilise [it]?”



What does “more” mean?



During the HSCC meeting, Mr Barclay reiterated his comments on wanting pharmacies to take on “many more things”, telling Ms Owatemi that they are in “strong agreement” that “there's a significant role pharmacy to do more”.


But he added that “we need to look at the financing of that”.


Read more: Primary care recovery plan: Barclay wants pharmacists to do 'even more'


Ms Owatemi later told C+D that she agrees “pharmacy should take on more”, adding that the sector has “been saying that for ages”.


But she interrogated the vagueness of Mr Barclay’s statements, asking what “more” means.


She continued: “From my parliamentary discussions, what tends to happen is people see a gap and [ask] ‘Who can fill that?’ And they go: ‘Pharmacists!'"


But the APPG chair said she aims “to change that narrative”.


“We all agree that community pharmacy can do much more,” she said. “But it's about really utilising the skill set that we have, rather than just us plugging holes.”



Differing priorities



Ms Owatemi further questioned Mr Barclay at the meeting on why the DH had yet to greenlight a Pharmacy First service, despite the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee submitting a proposal for it last year.


Mr Barclay responded that he had “only been appointed less than 12 weeks [ago]”.


Read more: PSNC kicks off ‘proper discussions’ on Pharmacy First with DH


Speaking to C+D, Ms Owatemi described his response as an “excuse”, saying that “that's not a good enough answer”.


The fact that Mr Barclay did not have a more concrete answer regarding Pharmacy First made clear to Ms Owatemi that the DH does not have “the same priorities” as the pharmacy sector, she said.


She also expressed concern over the health secretary’s response to her query on whether the government believes “that there are too many pharmacies in the country and they…need to be shut”, in the context of chains like Lloydspharmacy, Asda and Tesco unveiling proposals to consolidate their businesses. 


“Many pharmacists are starting to get this feeling that the government's policy seems to be driving community pharmacies to collapse,” she told the HSCC meeting.


Read more: Lloydspharmacy quits Sainsbury’s: What we do (and don't) know so far


But Mr Barclay – coupled with the government’s “non-response” to Lloydspharmacy’s recent announcement that it will withdraw from its branches in Sainsbury's supermarkets – “failed to reassure me that that wasn't the policy”, Ms Owatemi told C+D.


C+D approached the DH for comment.


In its manifesto published last month (January 23), the APPG called on the government to take “urgent action” to relieve funding pressure on community pharmacies.


And in November, Ms Owatemi said the government "continues to fail" pharmacists as the sector grows "weaker and weaker".


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