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Five things the Tories think are more important in healthcare than pharmacy

Find out which five things health secretary Steve Barclay decided are more important than community pharmacy in his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference

With the Conservative Party conference in full swing in Manchester this week (October 1-4), some of the Tories’ most prominent members are sharing their thoughts on the hot topics of the day.

In his address to the conference today (October 4), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made much of the fact that his mother had spent her working life as a community pharmacist. He claimed that helping his mother by "delivering prescriptions" taught him the "importance of being able to meet your commitments and make good on your promises".

But perhaps surprisingly, health secretary Steve Barclay’s keynote speech yesterday was a different ball game, making nary a reference to the community pharmacy sector.

Here’s a round-up of what he chose to speak about instead:


1. Welsh Labour’s policy on ‘meal deals’


Mr Barclay accused “the left” of “lectur[ing] people on what they eat and drink”, referring to a Welsh Labour policy – announced in June – to ban unhealthy items from meal deals.

Mr Barclay drew attention to the fact that the policy was announced “at a time when families are concerned about the cost of living”.

However, according to a June statement from the Welsh government, the restrictions were intended to “encourage” food retailers to make healthier foods “more available and affordable”. The government said that more than 60% of adults in Wales are “above a healthy weight”, and more than 25% of children starting school are “overweight or obese”.

Read more: 'The obesity epidemic shows no signs of slowing – but pharmacy can help'

Last October, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) policy manager Helga Mangion said in a blog for C+D that she found it “strange that there are still no nationally commissioned services through pharmacy to tackle … the obesity epidemic”.


2. More money for health tech – but will pharmacy get a look in?


Mr Barclay also announced a £30 million funding pot devoted to “speed[ing] up the adoption of tech in the NHS”.

Although he referenced new tools to “detect cancer sooner” and “tackle waiting lists”, it remains unclear whether community pharmacy is set to benefit from this investment, with projects slated to be delivered by April 2024.

Read more: Government ‘finalising’ hub-and-spoke consultation response

Mr Barclay’s announcement of new funding that may not directly drive revenue for community pharmacists comes as the sector’s margins are tighter than ever, leading community pharmacy groups to make repeated calls for an emergency funding uplift.

It comes after the government pledged a £645m cash injection for clinical pharmacy services in England earlier this year, although negotiations for how the funding will be spent are ongoing.

Earlier this week (October 2), C+D reported that the government has given no firm date about implementing legislation that would allow all pharmacies to adopt hub-and-spoke models – technology-based dispensing systems that some say could claw back pharmacist time and bolster margins.


3. Additional medical school places


Following the publication of the NHS long term workforce plan in June, Mr Barclay announced that additional medical school places will be made “available at universities for next September”.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) later clarified that the total new number of places for medical students in 2024 would be 205, “accelerating a commitment” set out in the long term workforce plan.

Read more: Workforce plan: Pharmacy school says class size increases need 'consideration'

While Mr Barclay said that recruitment and training for “doctors, nurses [and] paramedics” would get a boost from the plan, he didn’t explicitly mention community pharmacy recruitment in his speech.

However, he may have been indirectly referring to pharmacy when he mentioned the (unspecified) “other vital staff” the long term plan would benefit.

Under the long term workforce plan, NHS England (NHSE) announced a 29% increase in pharmacist training places by 2028/29 – leaving pharmacy schools unsure about how they would accommodate more students on MPharm courses in the short term.

4. Reversing “unacceptable changes to the NHS website”


Mr Barclay told the conference that he had ordered a “reversal of unacceptable changes to the NHS website” that he said “erased references to women” in conditions like cervical cancer. He had also stopped the NHS from ordering staff to declare pronouns to each new patient, he said.

But in a controversial move, Mr Barclay revealed that he would be “going further by announcing that we will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year” to “recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women” – effectively banning transgender patients from single-sex hospital wards.

Read more: Clinical podcast: How can pharmacy teams offer the best support to their transgender patients?

Last November, Peter Kelly, a pharmacist at Kamsons Pharmacy, wrote about his experiences of treating transgender patients in a blog for C+D, highlighting that pharmacists can be a valuable support for them. He also called for the introduction of a learning module for pharmacists on transgender medication.

Meanwhile, in February C+D’s clinical and custom content editor Nana Ofori-Atta spoke to counter assistant and LGBTQ+ activist Fred Pearce about how pharmacy teams can offer the best support to their transgender patients.

And back in 2016, C+D recounted the experience of a pharmacist who saw “sheer joy on the face” of one of their transgender patients when they presented the patient a prescription with “a new name”, and addressed them as “Miss”.


5. Doctors' strikes


Mr Barclay took aim at the “militant British Medical Association (BMA) leadership”, whose strike action he said “pose[s] a serious threat to the NHS’s recovery from the pandemic”.

Pharmacists speaking to C+D have largely backed the various doctors’ strikes that have taken place this year – despite the pressures plaguing the sector. This year, community pharmacies have signalled that they are unwilling to carry out additional clinical services unless they are adequately remunerated for them.

Although Community Pharmacy England (CPE) has been clear that striking is not an option for pharmacy businesses, it told the government in March that it must not launch either the Pharmacy Quality Scheme for 2023/24 or any other “new or expanded” clinical services unless it starts to fund pharmacies properly.

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

And C+D reported in May that Pharmacy London had recommended that the 1,498 local pharmacies it represents should not sign up to the NHS pharmacy contraception service “until the service is funded adequately”.

Today, C+D published the results of a snapshot survey of community pharmacists, which found that almost four in 10 respondents would not be able to provide additional mandatory services, while just under half would only be willing to do so if the remuneration was sufficiently enticing.

In a debate in the House of Lords in March, several peers pointed out that community pharmacies have faced a 30% real-terms cut in funding since 2015.

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