Community pharmacy doesn't have the best of luck when it comes to elections. Even when the NHS was one of the key battlegrounds of the 2015 campaign, the sector wasn't deemed worthy of a mention in either the Conservative or Labour documents. With Brexit dominating the debate this time, there’s little reason to hope for more attention on pharmacy.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pressure politicians to take the sector seriously during the campaign. The pharmacy bodies have already set out their strategies for driving engagement, and prospective MPs will no doubt be touring pharmacies as part of their efforts to drum up local support.
To that end, here are the top three election commitments I would like every political party to make in their manifestos:
1. Listen to us
The American revolutionaries demanded “no taxation without representation”. Well, pharmacists should expect no change to their funding without a full consultation. The recent High Court case exposed the government’s “impact assessment” of its funding cut in England for what we suspected – a sham.
The result of this lack of genuine engagement? Pharmacies were depicted by the Department of Health (DH) as mere shampoo and sandwich sellers, while their vital patient-facing role was deemed replaceable by dispensing robots.
Meanwhile, it took a C+D investigation to reveal that NHS England’s Call to Action consultation for pharmacy – which received more than 800 responses – had been buried for good, most likely because the feedback did not align with the government’s new policy of blunt cuts.
Last year’s anti-cuts campaign showed that the sector has the support of millions of members of the public. It’s time that politicians listened to people who truly understand pharmacy, before they make any more rash and irresponsible decisions.
This means a firm manifesto commitment to only review pharmacy funding in consultation with the sector.
2. Decriminalisation without delay
Overly-scrupulous parliamentary lawyers. “Factors outside [the DH’s] control.” Brexit. C+D has lost track of the excuses for why pharmacists remain at risk of criminal prosecution for an inadvertent dispensing error. The suspended sentence handed down to Northern Irish pharmacist Martin White in December was a stark reminder that this threat remains very real. It’s time for the government to finally take action and pass their long-delayed legal defence for inadvertent errors once and for all.
3. Make "national" commissioning truly national
While commissioners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland seem to have no problem commissioning a national minor ailments scheme, in England it seems harder than getting a locum to fill a Christmas Day shift. The government promised an England-wide minor ailments service in October 2016, but admitted at the time that it will not receive funding and instead will be "undertaken through 'business as usual' work".
If the next government truly hopes to solve the crisis of England's overburdened A&E departments and GP practices, then it needs to start with community pharmacy. And where better than a firm election commitment to commission and fund a national minor ailment service?
These are my key priorities for the sector, but what are yours? Let me know in the comments below, and C+D will look to incorporate them into its communications with prospective MPs of all stripes over the coming election season.
James Waldron is editor of C+D. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter at @CandDJamesW
How do you plan to vote in the general election on June 8?
Democratic Unionist Party
Social Democratic and Labour Party
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