Responding to C+D's revelation that every application to join the Pharmacy Access Scheme has been rejected so far, Mr Dugher said the financial protection scheme is a “complete con”.
“The government’s approach is all help, short of anything actually helpful,” he told C+D during the interview in Portcullis House last week (February 1).
Mr Dugher, who is MP for Barnsley East, also branded the government's consultation on the pharmacy cuts a "complete sham".
The government has not “properly engaged with the [pharmacy] profession or experts”, he stressed.
"We had the biggest petition in the history of the NHS, and I don't think for a single second the government has listened to any of those people."
“This is entirely about taking money out of the system and they are dressing it up as a policy – the whole thing is a complete shambles,” he told C+D.
“Desperate red herring”
In a parliamentary debate earlier this year, Jeremy Hunt made clear the government is still concerned there are too many pharmacies ‘clustered’ together.
But Mr Dugher suggested to C+D that if the policy of pharmacy cuts is intended to get rid of clusters, it is not the way to go about it.
“If the [government] could say that these efficiency measures are designed to target only areas where there are clusters, and they were able to prove this, [then] this policy would have some intellectual coherence,” Mr Dugher argued.
“But it has none. This idea of clusters is a desperate red herring.”
The cuts court case
Both the National Pharmacy Association and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee are challenging the cuts in court, and Mr Dugher said these legal battles could be "important".
“I am interested in the court case [and] how we can bring parliament into play.”
“We have to find whatever way it takes to keep the pressure on the government and expose the reality of [its] policy,” he stressed. “The impact assessment was written on the back of a cigarette packet and it is our job to show ministers what the impact is.”
“We have a budget coming up, and that is an opportunity to make a strong case for community pharmacy,” he added.
Pharmacy and the NHS
Mr Dugher acknowledged that in recent weeks the sector's plight has been eclipsed by headlines about the winter A&E crisis.
“I’ve tried to articulate that what is happening in A&E is a symptom of a much wider malaise in the NHS,” Mr Dugher added. “I said in the House of Commons: you will make a bad situation worse.”
Describing himself as an optimist, Mr Dugher emphasised that community pharmacy is “part of the solution” and “a big part of the future of the NHS”.