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Pharmacies treated as an ‘afterthought’ by government, says MP

A Liberal Democrat MP has criticised the government for “undervaluing” the sector, amid “critical pressure” and pharmacy closures. 

Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome Sarah Dyke issued a statement calling for “government action to support local pharmacies” earlier this month (January 5).

“Time and again”, the government “[treats] community pharmacies as an afterthought”, she warned.

Ms Dyke said that “local pharmacies provide a vital frontline health service” especially while GP appointments are “scarce” and health services are “stretched beyond breaking point”.

She added that “it is more important than ever that community pharmacies are supported” but that “the sad reality is that this government undervalues them”.

“Even now, when they’re under critical pressure and closing their doors, the government won’t step in with emergency funding”, Ms Dyke said.

Ms Dyke, who is a candidate for Glastonbury at the next election, added that “two of Glastonbury’s three pharmacies shut their doors in 2023 and the town now has no chemist on the high street”.

A government spokesperson stressed that community pharmacies “play a vital role” and pointed to the £645 million funding commitment backing the upcoming Pharmacy First service and other service updates.

 

Emergency funding to “reverse closures”

 

Ms Dyke’s statement called for “emergency funding from [the] government to keep community pharmacies open” and to “reverse closures”.

It also asked the government to “implement a long-term plan for pharmacy services” and “put in place a review of the pressures facing pharmacies in England”.

It stressed that “unlike typical businesses, pharmacies are unable to raise their prices to their primary customers - NHS patients - to address the funding squeeze”.

“The Liberal Democrats believe we need a long-term plan for community pharmacies, a review of the extraordinary pressures they’re facing and more training places and incentives to attract people into the profession”, Ms Dyke added. 

The statement also included comments from independent pharmacy contractor Mike Hewitson who said that in the “more than 20 years” he has been a pharmacist, he has “never known it this bad”.

“I want to focus on helping my patients, but I can’t if I’m struggling to keep the lights on”, he added.

He stressed the need for “urgent and substantial help”, highlighting that “funding has been fixed for the last five years, while costs such as the national living wage have increased hugely”.

 

DH: “Vital role”

 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) told C+D yesterday (January 15) that “community pharmacies play a vital role and are backed with £2.6 billion in government funding a year”.

It stressed that “four in five people live within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy and there are twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas”.

A spokesperson added that the government is “providing thousands more training places for pharmacists” and pointed to the up to £645m additional funding to support Pharmacy First that it said “has been widely welcomed by clinicians, patients and pharmacists”.

It comes as ITV last week aired a documentary looking at the pressures faced by the community pharmacy sector.

Mr Hewitson, who was one of the pharmacists featured in the documentary, told C+D that he hoped the documentary would help the public understand the “human impact of the last decade of misery” in the community pharmacy sector.

Meanwhile, MPs flagged funding, workforce and drug supply issues during a Westminster Hall debate in September.

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