MPs from across the political spectrum took part in a parliamentary session about health on Tuesday (July 5). The answers supplied by Conservative ministers gave an insight into the government’s plans for community pharmacy – or lack of them.
Here are the top four things C+D learned from the session:
1. The government refuses to soften the funding cuts...
All party pharmacy group chair and Labour MP Kevin Barron asked if the government was “going to look at putting more money” into pharmacy beyond “the original figures that were proposed” in December. This could be done through the planned Pharmacy Access Scheme and would “stop any shocks” from the £170 million cut to pharmacy funding in England, scheduled for October.
But pharmacy minister Alistair Burt – who used the same session to announce his surprise resignation – stressed that “there is no change to the funding issues announced on December 15”. He even reiterated the point by adding: “There are no changes to that.”
2 ...and still won’t reveal any more details about them
When asked by Labour MP Imran Hussain for some concrete details about how much funding will be made available as part of the access scheme, Mr Burt said the government “intends to announce details… as part of a wider announcement on community pharmacy in 2016-17 and beyond”.
When will this announcement arrive? Mr Burt couldn’t provide any details on this either, but he is “aware of the fact that pharmacy is waiting for this”.
3. It won’t commit to expanding the sector’s diabetes role…
Keith Vaz, Labour MP and chair of the all party parliamentary group for diabetes, asked health secretary Jeremy Hunt whether pharmacists could do more to “ease the burden” that this condition places on general practice.
Mr Hunt agreed that it is the “right moment to rethink the role of pharmacies” so that their “incredible skills as trained clinicians” could reduce pressures on GPs and the wider NHS. However, he declined to go into any details. “Diabetes and childhood obesity are big priorities for the government, and I hope that we will be able to inform the House [of Commons] more about that soon,” he added.
4 ...but it will look into stubborn dispensing doctors
Kelly Tolhurst, Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood, told the session that she had been contacted “by a number of disabled constituents who have experienced difficulties getting dispensed drugs from their local GPs due to falling outside of geographical criteria…adding a significant financial burden”.
“Given instances where dispensing GPs have also blocked the arrival of some local pharmacies” in her constituency, Ms Tolhurst asked Mr Burt to suggest how the situation “could be remedied”.
The pharmacy minister set out the role dispensing doctors are meant to play in supporting patients out of reach of pharmacies, before stressing that doctors “certainly shouldn’t be blocking the addition of local pharmacies”. “If my honourable friend would like to write to me, I can certainly look into it in more detail,” Mr Burt added.