Backtracking on former pharmacy minister Alistair Burt’s suggestion in 2016 that 3,000 community pharmacies in England could close as a result of government funding cuts, Ms Churchill said these closures “would not happen” on health secretary Matt Hancock’s “watch”.
MPs are “pretty much in agreement about the value of our pharmacies”, she added during the debate, which centered around support and funding for independent pharmacies.
She also praised the sector for being “an integral part of the healthcare system”, and said its role is “more important than ever in the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“The health and social care Secretary and I — indeed, all colleagues in government — are hugely grateful for the unequivocal commitment shown by community pharmacies. I am immensely proud to be the pharmacy minister,” she added.
Ms Churchill said that the government has “entered discussions on firm proposals for additional funding” for the sector to cover the extra costs incurred during the pandemic.
“To respond to this crisis, we have a need to reprioritise certain community pharmacy contractual framework services,” she said.
The “immediate challenge” will be to restore services that were planned for 2020-21, where the government can do so and “where it remains the right thing to do”, she added.
Although no new pharmacy services were announced, Ms Churchill said the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) wants to “consider the role of community pharmacists in future vaccination programmes to maximise access”.
“I am keen for community pharmacies to do more in partnership with GPs in their local area, and for them to be as one with their colleagues and treated like other members of the entire NHS family that we value so much,” she added.
Ms Churchill said that pharmacies have “demonstrated how they can increase the uptake of flu vaccinations”.
When it comes to making changes to pharmacies, the government “will continue to build capacity and capability, test new services for potential future commissioning, and focus services on the areas that have the most impact on the population’s health”, she added.