Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that it will be in the interest of the government to inject more money into community pharmacy, a sector that has been “struggling in the current climate”.
He was speaking at an “In Conversation” event held online by the Asian Media Group and Eastern Eye newspaper, a sister publication of Pharmacy Business, on Thursday (29 April).
‘In awe and grateful’
Responding to a question from Mark Lyonette, CEO of the National Pharmacy Association, Khan said he was “in awe” of pharmacy teams across London, whom he described as “worthy unsung heroes” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lyonette had asked if the mayor would like to “thank the capital’s 1,800 community pharmacy teams for staying open throughout the pandemic and thereby keeping the wheels on the NHS and maintaining access to (healthcare) advice, medicines and vaccines?”
The mayor said: “I’ve been to pharmacies on many occasions over the last few weeks and months, not least receiving my flu jab. I have asthma so I go to a pharmacy regularly. Many people couldn’t go see their GP, they couldn’t get an appointment they didn’t have the confidence to use technology. The human beings that were available, that were the experts, were pharmacists.
In Conversation with Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London: Discussion on community pharmacy starts at 20:35 through to 28:20 of the video.
“I’m so in awe and grateful of pharmacies across our city. Many of them are small independent family businesses and they have shown the public how brilliant they are.”
He added that when people needed urgent medical advice but couldn’t use technology to consult their family doctor, for one reason or another, pharmacists were the only “human beings” that were available in the communities as medicine experts.
Amazing job with ‘safe spaces’
Khan also praised pharmacists for doing an “amazing thing to help victims of domestic abuse” by creating safe spaces – which essentially are community pharmacy consultation rooms made available to people experiencing domestic abuse as a place where they can phone case workers or access other support services.
“They (safe space pharmacists) will take you into a room, give assistance and signpost so you can flee an unsafe home,” he said.
“Whether it’s giving out the vaccine for the Covid virus, whether it’s the flu job, whether it’s health advice, whether it’s preventative advice, whether it’s safe spaces, I’m just so in awe and grateful of pharmacies across our city, many of them by the way, small independent businesses, family businesses, doing a great job. “
Jignesh Patel, pharmacist and director at Ropharm Ltd, asked Khan how as the mayor of London he could help pharmacists who have been struggling because of swingeing funding cuts over several years.
The mayor responded by saying that there was a strong economic case for investment in pharmacies, and that London would need a strong network of pharmacies to help handle the next pandemic when it comes.
“All the evidence suggests that this will not be last virus we have. Pharmacists and many others have risen to the occasions but many of them may not be around in the future. So it’s in the government’s interests to support those people.”
However, he agreed that it was “really difficult for independent pharmacists to thrive and survive in the current climate.” And therefore, “if we’re not careful, we’ll have fewer pharmacies on our high streets… and that will be really disruptive to the needs of ordinary Londoners,” he added.
Giving his reaction to Pharmacy Business after listening to the mayor’s interview, NPA’s Mark Lyonette said: “It was clear from Sadiq Khan’s remarks that his direct personal experience of pharmacy services gives him an understanding of the important role the capital’s pharmacies play.
“He was quick to take up my invitation to thank pharmacy teams across London for their work during the pandemic.
“In tackling the question of funding, he made a powerful point about the need for a strong network of pharmacies to be in place to tackle future public health emergencies.
“The NPA has made exactly this argument to ministers and the health select committee; the pharmacy network has been key to the resilience of primary care in the face of the pandemic and funding cuts are no way to prepare for a future shock to the health service.”
Asked if he thought community pharmacy particularly help health conditions which disproportionately affect South Asian communities, the mayor said the number of people that visit a community pharmacy for healthcare advise was “remarkable” and that a community pharmacy was an ideal setting for advice on a range of several conditions such as obesity, diabetes, Hepatitis, STIs and HIV.
Acknowledging that he didn’t have control over many of the central government’s policy decisions, the mayor said he could make use of “a huge amount of lobbying power” the City Hall has.
“What I can do is make sure that I listen to, get evidence from pharmacies across our city, particularly the independent pharmacies, to support them to not just survive, but flourish and thrive.”
He added that there wasn’t just a moral and social case but also an economic case in investing in them.
Khan claimed that after his first attendance at the government’s emergency COBRA meeting last year, he was convinced drastic measures should have been taken much sooner to confront the raging Covid pandemic, but that prime minister Boris Johnson dragged his feet.
However, he was adamant that “This needs to be the last lockdown … I’m hopeful that even though there might be a third wave, because most of us will have had the vaccine the consequences won’t be serious.
“I was recently with experts from the NHS and Public Health England and they think that as long as there are no particular new variants, we can avoid large numbers of people going to hospitals and avoid a further lockdown as long as we continue with the vaccine roll-out, test and trace, and supporting those have to have to isolate.”
Sadiq Khan was elected as the first Asian mayor of a major European city in 2016. On Thursday (May 6), Londoners will go to the polls when Khan would be seeking a re-election as mayor of London.