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‘Many supporters’: Cross-party MPs pledge support for community pharmacy

Labour and Conservative MPs heralded community pharmacy’s role in primary care, as a new policy brief has mapped a strategy for the sector.

Members of parliament from across the political divide showed their support for community pharmacy at the launch of a policy brief examining the future of the sector, held at the House of Commons this week (July 13).

The policy brief, titled “the future of community pharmacy in England”, makes recommendations for policymakers and sector leaders, based on independent research conducted at the University of Bath and funded by short-line pharmacy wholesaler Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

Among other suggestions, the document called for “stronger, more unified and proactive” professional leadership in the sector to develop policy more openly and with more stakeholder input.

Read more: NPA sets out vision to ‘redefine’ community pharmacy’s role in the NHS

The profession should also develop more diverse services, including for cancer, mental health and health inequalities, according to the brief.

Introducing the speakers, Sigma founder Dr Bharat Shah CBE described the policy brief as “crucial”, adding that the research informing it could help “create credible opportunities for pharmacy” in the future.

Dr Shah called on the MPs present to “test these findings” and “launch UK pharmacy in a new positive direction”.


“Essential pillars”


Lord Popat of Harrow, a “special friend” of Dr Shah, said that community pharmacies were “essential pillars of healthcare for regional communities”, as the first point of contact for many people seeking medical advice.

He praised the “amazing role” that community pharmacists play providing “vital services”, commending their efforts during the pandemic.

Read more: ‘Aiming for agreement in July’: CPE chief gives service negotiations update

Lord Popat called for “support” for community pharmacy and said that community pharmacists are the “cornerstone of our healthcare system”.

“What can we do to take community pharmacy to the next level?” he asked.


“Many supporters in parliament”


Dean Russell, Conservative MP for Watford and the sponsor for the event, said that during COVID-19, he had seen “firsthand the important role…community pharmacy plays in this country” while serving on the health and social care select committee (HSCC). 

He added that he had been struck by the “passion” that pharmacists and community pharmacies displayed for keeping people “safe” and “supported”.

Mr Russell said that community pharmacy had “many supporters here in parliament”, adding that one of his “proud” moments as a parliamentarian was to lead the house in including pharmacy in the list of thank yous for healthcare workers.


Closures “worrying”


Karin Smyth, Labour MP for Bristol South and shadow health minister, said that she hoped “soon to be in charge of pharmacies”. 

She added that the trends in recent years were “worrying” with pharmacy closures across the country and that closures were “totally counter to the direction of travel that we want to see” in developing more “place-based care” and moving care out of hospitals.

Read more: Labour pledges to 'go further' with pharmacy 'prescribing service'

Ms Smyth called on the government to stem the tide of closures, adding that Labour wants people to be able to “walk up to a pharmacy with well-qualified clinicians and support staff to help them”, including with vaccinations in an environment that is not “threatening”.


Pharmacy “at the heart of the policy debate”


Meanwhile, Steve Brine - Conservative MP for Winchester, HSCC chair and former pharmacy minister - said that the paper will be “fed into the briefs and the questions” in the HSCC’s upcoming community pharmacy inquiry, which will take evidence “after summer recess”.

He said that community pharmacy stands “on the edge of something exciting, with real new money”.

Pharmacy is “at the heart of the policy debate” and is now frequently mentioned in parliament, after years of being sidelined, he added.

Read more: HSCC launches new inquiry on future role of pharmacy services

Mr Brine said that it has been “a long journey” to convince “the powers that be” about the importance of community pharmacy, “even when you're the minister”.

He added that the conclusions made in the paper “were very familiar” to him from his time as pharmacy minister, describing community pharmacy as an “amazing primary care workforce of highly trained clinicians trusted by the public, on street corners and high streets up and down the country”. 


Community pharmacy research


The report’s findings were based on PhD research by Dr Evgenia Paloumpi, conducted at the University of Bath.

The PhD research examined health policy in the UK alongside dozens of interviews with “key” players in community pharmacy.

Speaking about her research at the event, Dr Paloumpi said that the aim of her PhD was to “provide evidence to support a strategy for the future developments of community pharmacy”. 

Read more: The choice is ours: Look to the future or get lost in the slipstream of change

She said that expanding pharmacy’s role to include the treatment and management of long-term conditions was a priority for the government and the sector.

However, she said that the research indicated that community pharmacy “could be more influential” to the government and the NHS than it is presently and that professional bodies in the sector needed to “increase the visibility of the sector's expertise”.

The briefing document stressed that Dr Paloumpi’s research does not necessarily reflect the views of her current employer, the European Research Council.

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