Jeremy Hunt, Conservative MP for South West Surrey, claimed that “40% of pharmacies are clustered in groups of three of more”, so the NHS should not "continue to subsidise pharmacies that are very close to other pharmacies".
“Our reforms are designed to ensure that where there is only one local pharmacy that people can access, that pharmacy is protected,” Mr Hunt said during a parliamentary debate on mental health and NHS performance yesterday (January 9).
The health secretary was responding to a question put to the House of Commons by Labour MP Michael Dugher, who asked if the “significant cuts” to the community pharmacy budget could make “an appalling [NHS] crisis even worse”.
Mr Dugher suggested that pharmacy closures could result in more patients turning to GPs for medical advice, and “in desperation” some could turn up at the local hospital.
Mr Hunt replied that community pharmacy has to “make efficiency savings”, as with “all parts of the NHS”.
"Fragmentation and lack of integration"
During the same debate, Dr Philippa Whitford, Scottish National Party MP for Central Ayrshire, compared the winter A&E crisis in England to the situation in her country.
“In Scotland, we face the same problem of increased demand and shortage of doctors, yet 93.5% of our patients were seen within four hours in Christmas week,” Dr Whitford said. She contrasted this with some areas of England, where she said only 50% of patients are seen within the four hour target.
The difference is down to the "fragmentation and the lack of integration [in England]”, Dr Whitford added. “There are things that can be done. We can use community pharmacies and GPs, and try to bring the NHS back together.”
In response, Mr Hunt admitted that Scotland has “gone further” in the use of community pharmacy, “which is to be commended”. But he added that the government in England has increased investment in general practice.