The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth took to the stage during the Pharmacy Business Awards in London to insist he is a “friend and ally” of community pharmacy and pledged to invest in the profession not cut its funding.

In what was a passionate speech designed to sharply criticise the government’s £320 million in cuts to community pharmacy’s budget as well as express support for pharmacy teams across the UK, Ashworth said his party would work with pharmacies and give them “the security they need” with Brexit looming and a deal still conspicuous by its absence.

“We would be a government who would want to work with community pharmacy to ensure pharmacies and the industry more widely are given the security they need through this period (of Brexit),” he said.

“I am a huge supporter of community pharmacy. As you know it’s the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service (NHS) and (I would) like to take a moment to thank community pharmacy for the contribution you have made throughout the last 70 years and the contribution you continue to make today in keeping so many people in our country well and healthy. You are a vital part of our National Health Service.

“The healthcare challenges we face today – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, the different cancers – all depend on a health service investing more in prevention and helping people manage their healthcare. And community pharmacy is absolutely vital to that.”

The awards, which hailed the best of community pharmacy and attracted politicians, pharmaceutical company executives and healthcare leaders, also heard Ashworth express his hope that ongoing talks between the government and community pharmacy’s negotiator, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), culminates in a new contractual framework which is based on services rather than dispensing medicines.

The PSNC is keen to secure a service-based contract so pharmacies can be remunerated sufficiently for providing care for people with long-term conditions. Community pharmacy leaders are also keen the sector plays an integral role in the Conservatives’ 10-year NHS plan which is it is hoped will reduce health inequalities and life expectancy gap between the wealthy and poor.

Ashworth, who promised to reverse the Conservatives’ pharmacy cuts during the launch of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s Safer Pharmacies Charter in the Commons last year,  said: “When we look at the challenges of an ageing population, when we all live with increasingly complex conditions, community pharmacy becomes more important than ever before and it’s why I hope that these negotiations that are going on about the future of the contract (will move) to a service-based contract as part of those negotiations.

“And it’s why I think community pharmacy has to be an absolutely vital part of the upcoming 10-year plan which NHS bosses are working on.

“But my fear is if you recall the Five-Year Forward View a few years ago, it talked about dementia, it talked about blind people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease and giving them the tools to manage their conditions to lead a healthier lifestyle. But where was community pharmacy in that vision?”

Ashworth also questioned why community pharmacies were left out of the planning for sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), the government’s way of moving care out of hospitals and into local communities. A survey by Pharmacy Business this year found that many STPs were not interested in community pharmacy.

“Where was community pharmacy in the 44 STP plans? In fact, the Five-Year Forward View, when it said that in return for this investment we need to pursue £22 billion of efficiencies, I think a chink of those efficiencies were actually cuts to community pharmacy’s budget. I think it was £350 million over two years,” Ashworth said.

“It was one of those issues when I was first appointed as shadow health secretary about two years ago I actually campaigned to try and get the House of Commons to vote down those cuts of £350 million.

“I just thought it was wrong. I thought if you want to change the path of healthcare and be more focused on prevention, you should be investing in millions of pounds.

“My party was committed to reversing those cuts in last year’s general election. We need to see where we get to with this 10-year plan but given that politics is very unstable at the moment, if there was a change in the general election of government, who knows what’s going to happen, I’ve got no idea but if (Labour did win the election) we would put forward plans to invest in community pharmacy.

“We would be a government who would want to work with community pharmacy to ensure pharmacies and the industry more widely are given the security they need through this period (of Brexit).”

Ashworth added: “In my own Leicester constituency, I’ve seen the value of community pharmacy, not just personally because I got my flu jab (there), but I’ve seen in Leicester the huge power of community pharmacy in our local community.

“I’ve seen community pharmacists going beyond what is in their contract, delivering prescriptions, delivering medicines to the elderly at all hours even though they are not necessarily getting recompense for some of that work.

“I’ve seen community pharmacists work with our Gujarati and Punjabi communities, particularly our elderly communities, and interact and engage in a way that just wouldn’t happen if those community pharmacies weren’t there.

“I’m a huge supporter of community pharmacists. I see them every day as a Leicester constituency MP but more importantly, I see your value as being absolutely central to some of these big health challenges we face in the future.

“If I do become the next health secretary, I am absolutely a friend and ally of community pharmacy.”

The awards were awash with accolades for community pharmacy. Twelve awards were handed out; Morecombe Bay Chemist in Lancashire beat off some tough competition to win the Community Award, Western Elms Pharmacy was named Johnson & Johnson Perfect Pharmacy Store, a brilliant weight management service run by Viral Doshi secured him the Local Health Initiative of the Year award and The Health Dispensary picked up the Natural Healthcare Award.

Firstcare Connection, a company supporting the local commissioning of community pharmacy services, won the Innovation Award, Ashley Matthews was named Pharmacy Assistant of the Year, Warman Freed Pharmacy in Golders Green won the Health and Beauty Award, Whitworths Chemists in Scunthorpe took the Enterprise Award, Neil Mowbray, the manager of Day Lewis Pharmacy in Hull, was named Public Health Pharmacist of the Year and the Priory Pharmacy in Dudley were Pharmacy Team of the Year.

Thorrun Govind was crowned Young Pharmacist of the Year and A.R. Pharmacy in Southampton were crowned Pharmacy Business of the Year for the amazing services they provide their local community.

English Pharmacy Board chair Sandra Gidley was handed the Editor’s Award for her work in driving forward the interests of pharmacy.

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