Lord Hunt of Kings Heath questioned why the government wants to reduce the number of community pharmacies in the high street when the profession “can clearly help reduce demands on GPs and A&E services”.
In a parliamentary debate on Tuesday (December 6) initiated by Conservative peer Baroness Cumberlege, vice chair of the all-party pharmacy group (APPG), Lord Hunt questioned whether the £113 million cut to the sector's funding in England means the the Conservative party "no longer believes in competition".
"This policy is intended to reduce the number of community pharmacies in the high street," he said. "Why does the government want to reduce patient choice?"
In response, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health Lord Prior of Brampton said the Conservative party “does believe in competition” and stressed that paying establishment fees for pharmacies that are in "clusters" is “not a very good allocation of resources”.
More pharmacy services "over time"
Baroness Cumberlege asked how the government plans to "enhance the role of community pharmacies in providing NHS services to patients and the public".
She referenced the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report, which highlights community pharmacy’s contribution to the NHS.
She also called for the Department of Health (DH) to "reconsider the swingeing 7.4% cut in income" that will hit the sector next year – a figure Lord Prior said he “did not recognise”.
Lord Prior said that the government’s pharmacy funding reforms “reward quality”, integrate pharmacies with primary care, and will make "better use" of pharmacists' clinical skills.
Crossbench peer Lord Low of Dalston suggested that "rather than cutting pharmacies' budgets, the government should be commissioning more services from pharmacies".
Lord Prior repeated the DH's previous statement that the sector would not escape taking on its “share” of the £22 billion in savings required across the NHS.
Other concerns raised during the debate included the impact the pharmacy cuts could have on rural and disadvantaged areas, and how the funding drop could make it harder for pharmacists to provide medication management services.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said it had worked to brief peers in advance of the debate.
There is support for community pharmacy from “peers across the spectrum of political parties”, including many who were unable to take part in the debate due to time constraints, PSNC added.
Read the full debate here.