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EXCLUSIVE- Fixing the NHS front door: Daisy Cooper calls for increased pharmacy investment

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Cooper pushes for increased investment in community pharmacy, calls for closing tax loopholes to raise funds 

“We need to fix the front door to our NHS by investing in community pharmacy,” asserts Daisy Cooper as more and more pharmacies “worry about the future of their business.”

Reflecting on the challenges faced by pharmacists during the pandemic, she emphasised their pivotal role in launching vaccination schemes across communities and the larger role pharmacies play in complementing traditional NHS facilities.

Cooper recalls her collaboration with local pharmacies in St. Albans, where she worked hand in glove with them to address challenges faced by pharmacists to obtain information from NHS England regarding protocols and procedures.

She told Pharmacy Business reporter that she had to work out something “hand in glove to help them get those vaccinated schemes up and running, as pharmacies were desperate to take part in the vaccination scheme” in her constituency.

Describing their unique selling point (USP), Cooper emphasised the convenience and immediacy of pharmacies located in high street areas and warned that pharmacy closures “should be a real wake up call for the government.”

More than 1008 community pharmacies closed down in 2023 compared with 2015, according to a report from the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).

Cooper expressed concern over the increasing closure of pharmacies, attributing it to financial constraints and staffing shortages despite the indispensable role of community pharmacies as accessible healthcare hubs.

Elected MP in St Albans since 2019, Cooper is the deputy leader of the liberal democratic party and a prominent figure in healthcare discourse who recently expressed her support for the Fight4Pharmacies campaign.

In an exclusive interview with Pharmacy Business, Cooper, addressed concerns about the need to invest in community pharmacies, and the need for collaborative solutions to restore public confidence in the healthcare system stating that “the front door to the NHS is broken.”

She emphasised the critical role of pharmacies, GPs, and dentists as the frontline of the NHS, stressing that neglecting their investment leads to increased pressure on hospitals, longer wait times for patients and crumbling pharmacy businesses.

Amidst the staff shortages and underfunding of several pharmacies which provide “walk-in health advice” or act as “healthcare centres on the highstreets,” Cooper said:

“We could be asking pharmacists to do more to provide more consultations, if we could free up their time from doing things they don’t always have to be doing.”

“We need to be looking at our workforce as a whole and saying how do we maximize the use of the skills and experience of the entire workforce in that area and maximize their use of time,” she continued.

“Plenty of red tape” frustrating pharmacists

She further vocalised her frustration over government’s focus on maximizing staff capacity by asking people to “work longer hours and to work harder” while everybody in the health service is “absolutely overstretched, overworked, and incredibly demoralized.”

The deputy leader outlined the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to addressing this issue, advocating for substantial investment in alternative sources of revenue, such as closing loopholes in taxation for big corporations and supervision of medicines.

What we need is a government that’s going to have a huge amount of ambition in this area to fundamentally move everything upstream and fix the front door to our NHS by investing in our pharmacy.”

“Pharmacists are playing an amazing role during this time, but there’s plenty of red tape that I think many pharmacists find incredibly frustrating,” she continued.

And we’re absolutely committed to doing that as a party and liberal Democrats.”

Highlighting the necessity of a comprehensive long-term capital infrastructure plan, condemning the diversion of capital funds for short-term expenses, Cooper advocated for robust digital investment in pharmacies alongside the NHS to optimise patient care and operational efficiency.

In her view, achieving these goals requires steadfast commitment and strategic investment to maximize staff productivity and elevate the user experience.

Thoughts on Pharmacy First Service launched in January

Central to the vision is the integration of community pharmacies that Cooper believes are the “hidden gems of our health services hiding in plain sight” complementing traditional NHS facilities.

She believes that assimilating pharmacies into a broader framework of integrated care would facilitate seamless coordination between different facets of the healthcare system, ensuring an integrated approach to patient care and unburdening traditional NHS services.

Citing Pharmacy First service as an example, Cooper appreciates the launch of the scheme which she believes “was overdue” since around 95 per cent of pharmacies have now adopted the pharmacy first model.

But Cooper believes there is still more that can be done to expand it, based on examples from Scotland that has more than 7 services on the rollout.

To achieve this, she suggested a need for “comprehensive review of everything from prescribing rights to supervision of medicines, to looking at whether the pilots are referring people, to having pathways, to secondary care being successful.”

Cooper blamed inadequate government remuneration for prescriptions and burdensome business rates as key factors for exacerbating financial strain on the pharmacies.

In her view, addressing these challenges requires urgent reform of both business rates and prescription funding formulas to ensure pharmacies receive fair compensation for their services and are not driven out of business.

(Read the full interview in the upcoming June Issue)

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Current Issue March 2024

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