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Government in ‘total denial’ about crisis in community pharmacy, Lords warn

The government seems to be in “total denial” about the crisis facing community pharmacies, members of the House of Lords have warned.

Speaking in an oral parliamentary debate on Monday (March 20), Lord Grade of Yarmouth asked “what has to happen in the independent pharmaceutical sector for the government to realise that there is a crisis”.

Independent pharmacies “are closing at an alarming rate” and this has been going on “for years”, but the government “seems to be in total denial”, he added.

Read more: Pharmacies ‘largely unaffected’ by severe pressures, claims NHS medical director

He questioned how many pharmacies must close before the government “confronts” the issue, asking whether it is “waiting for them all to close”.

It came after peers had pointed to figures showing 720 pharmacies had closed since 2015, with many speaking out in favour of the sector.


“Pharmacies are private businesses”


Several peers also pointed to the 30% real-terms cut in funding community pharmacies have faced since 2015, with members questioning why pharmacies faced with huge inflationary pressure, including for locum costs, had only heard “platitudes” from the government.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked for more detail on how the government is handling the crisis, noting that many independent pharmacies are “going to the wall”.

Read more: ‘No assessment' of funding impact on pharmacy closures, says DH

He asked: “They are faced today with huge inflationary pressures, yet all we get are platitudes from the government. When will [it] do something?”

In response, Lord Evans of Rainow said there are “about the same number” of pharmacies in England – around 11,000 – as there were 10 years ago.

“They are private businesses and some close, some open and there are changes,” he added.


Calls for Pharmacy First progress


There were also calls for the government to enter into discussions with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) to urgently look at introducing a “fairly funded” Pharmacy First service.

“Can my noble friend please confirm whether the government will enter into discussions with [PSNC] to look at introducing a fairly funded Pharmacy First service as soon as possible?” asked Baroness Hodgson of Abinger.

Read more: Pharmacy First service ‘most likely’ route to new funding, PSNC boss predicts

In response, Lord Evans said that while it is “yet to label” the service offer as “Pharmacy First”, the government has introduced and funded a range of services in community pharmacy that make use of the clinical skills of pharmacy teams.

“We continue to discuss with [PSNC] how the government can best support community pharmacies and the sector to provide services to patients,” he added.

Meanwhile, he said that the government would continue to implement the vision set out in the 2019 contract but would “continue to explore what else community pharmacy could be commissioned to do”.

Read more: UPDATED: Halt PQS until pharmacy funded fairly, PSNC tells government

Integrated care boards (ICBs) are “encouraged” to commission more additional services such as minor illness services, he added.

Lord Evans also told peers that people did not always know the “true value” of local pharmacies and how skilled they are in diagnosing minor illness.

And he admitted that there “is still more to be done” as regards pharmacy access to patient records.


“Real concern”


PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison said that the negotiator was “very grateful” for the support of all those who “spoke up” for community pharmacies during the session.

“It is clear that there is an abundance of political goodwill towards the sector, as well as very real concern about the future and the potential impact on the millions of people who visit us every week,” she said.

“We hope the government will take note of this political will and take urgent action to preserve the network of community pharmacies, to safeguard safe and reliable access to medicines for patients and the public,” she added.


DH “carefully monitoring” access to pharmacies


A Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson said it is “carefully monitoring access to pharmaceutical services”.

They added that “80% of people can access a pharmacy within a 20-minute walk and there remain twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas compared to less deprived areas”.

“Community pharmacies play a vital role in supporting the NHS and we back them with £2.6 billion a year,” they said. “On top of this, we have announced a further £100 million investment in the sector.”

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