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Members of Parliament (MPs) from all main parties across the House have stressed the need to address funding and workforce pressures faced by their local community pharmacies.

The “Future of Community Pharmacy” debate — organised by the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) on in Westminster Hall on Tuesday (June 21) — began with the MPs paying tribute to the hard work and dedication of the community pharmacists throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

APPG member Peter Dowd MP, who initiated the debate, said: “All Members present today would like to put on record their thanks and express their appreciation for all pharmacists, pharmacy dispensers, pharmacy technicians, medicines counter assistants, delivery drivers and administrative teams, who worked so hard during that difficult time to maintain the public’s access to the pharmaceutical services that they relied on.”

It was highlighted that around 209 community pharmacy closures had taken place since 2017 in England, bringing the total number of community pharmacies in the country down to 11,100.

In response, pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield told parliamentarians: “Community pharmacies are private businesses which receive funding to provide NHS services. The closure or consolidation of a pharmacy is a commercial decision of the owner.

“However, the Department monitors the market and the effect of any such closures on patient access. The Pharmacy Access Scheme seeks to protect access for patients where pharmacies are more than a mile away from the next nearest pharmacy or 0.8 of a mile in areas of high deprivation.”

In response to a question on what steps the government was taking to support local pharmacy, the minister said: “The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework for 2019 to 2024 commits £2.592 billion each year to community pharmacy.

“Additional funding has been available to community pharmacies for flu vaccination and the medicines delivery service, COVID-19 vaccination and Pharmacy Collect. Negotiations with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee on what the sector will deliver in 2022/23 are ongoing.”

“The Government fully recognises community pharmacists as clinically trained professionals. The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework sets out an increasing role for pharmacists in delivering more clinical services and utilising their skills to support the National Health Service,” the minister replied to a question on recognising the role of community pharmacists as a clinically trained professionals.

It was also highlighted that the NHS England was investing a further £15.9 million over the next four years to support the expansion of frontline pharmacy staff in primary and community care. This will provide increased access to educational, prescribing and clinical training and development opportunities for post registration pharmacy professionals.

Dowd also spoke of the abuse faced by pharmacy staff in recent times. “We have to recognise that, despite pharmacists trying to help people, they sometimes got dreadful abuse. We have to help them and protect them from abuse.”

“Our pharmacies bring huge value to the NHS, patients and the public generally. We and the whole country owe them a debt of gratitude,” Dowd added.

Democratic Unionist Party MP from Strangford said: “The future of community pharmacies is intrinsically linked with that of the NHS. We need to work smart as well as expecting them to work hard, and get the minor ailments scheme in a funded and good position.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to do something good with our health service, in a way that we save money and also deliver better care across the whole community. Everyone of us here today is excited at the possibility of what could happen. I am sure when she responds the Minister will give us some encouragement. I know one thing: if this happens, we all gain.”

APPG Officer Taiwo Owatemi MP said: “It is deeply frustrating to hear about the steady erosion in the availability of community pharmacies”.

Anna Firth MP said: “Enabling people to access specialist services without going through a GP will massively ease pressure on GP services. Upskilling and funding pharmacy can help take pressure off GPs, ambulances and hospitals.”

The APPG was formed in December 1999 to drive forward cross-party conversations on topical issues and their significance for pharmacy, patients and the NHS.

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