The shadow pharmacy minister has questioned government assurances that patients will be unaffected by funding cuts to low-volume pharmacies.
Jamie Reed MP told C+D there was “no logic to substantiate” the government view that patients would continue to have adequate access to pharmacy services if funding cuts forced their nearest pharmacy to close.
His comments came after health minister Jane Ellison last week (March 3) defended the decision by many NHS England area teams to discontinue top-up funding to small pharmacies – the Essential Small Pharmacies Local Pharmaceutical Services Scheme (ESPLPS).
Even if this resulted in closures of the businesses, which are all located at least 1km from another pharmacy, patients would still have access to pharmaceutical services from internet businesses and delivery services, Ms Ellison said.
But Mr Reed refuted the claims and pointed to areas with aging populations and “rubbish bus services” as examples where pharmacy closures could have an impact.
“The notion of them [patients] having the same access to pharmacies as they have now is a stretch. So I don’t think the minister has given huge reassurance,” he told C+D after Ms Ellison made the comments during a parliamentary debate.
The ESPLPS scheme will continue nationally until March and NHS England area teams can choose to extend the funding beyond that date. So far, many area teams have avoided committing to its continuation - Ms Ellison revealed only 16 of the 73 pharmacies who currently received the funding had received assurance they would continue to be financially supported.
'Difficult position' for pharmacies
Ms Ellison said she hoped the debate would “spur on” area teams to urgently look at outstanding funding proposals. But Mr Reed said the upcoming general election left the sector in a “difficult position”.
“Who knows what is going to happen [or] which minister is going to be responsible for what? These aren’t promises you can take to the bank,” he stressed.
Pharmacies on the EPSLPS scheme – designed to ensure 'essential' small businesses located at least 1km from another pharmacy can remain viable – told C+D last month that they were “completely reliant” on the extra funding and would have to close without it.
On Friday (March 6), C+D launched a campaign to secure continued funding for these pharmacies. C+D has drafted a letter for pharmacists and patients to send to their MP, urging them to persuade their local NHS England area team to quickly reach a funding decision for affected pharmacies in their constituency.