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Parliamentarians call on PM to act as a wave of pharmacy closures threatens to spiral out of control

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Two dozen parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have called on the prime minister to act as a wave of pharmacy closures in recent years has threatened to spiral out of control.

A letter to the prime minister signed by 24 MPs and peers has warned that worse could be yet to come after “spiralling business costs” and “year after year of real terms funding cuts” have led to hundreds of pharmacy closures.

New data from the PSNC shows that over 639 local pharmacies have been lost in England since 2016.

“This is the equivalent to just short of one pharmacy closure per constituency”, the cross-party group warned.

The letter comes as MPs came together at a parliamentary summit to call for pharmacies to be embraced as a “game-changer” for tackling healthcare backlogs and taking pressure off other areas of the NHS. A ‘Future of Pharmacy’ event was attended by 53 parliamentarians on July 5 in the Palace of Westminster.

At the event parliamentarians heard directly from frontline pharmacists and representatives of pharmacy bodies where a map of constituency-specific pharmacy numbers was also unveiled, with details of the number of pharmacy closures in MPs’ local area.

It discussed the value added by pharmacies in the community, remaining open throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and playing a huge role in delivering Covid-19 vaccines.

Now a dangerous combination of underfunding and workforce pressures and a rise in physical and verbal abuse is “pushing pharmacies to the brink”, the heard.

The event was jointly organized by the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

Jackie Doyle-Price MP for Thurrock and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy, said: “Pharmacy teams play such an important role in our healthcare system and have the potential to do so much more. The public want them to play a more important role in their healthcare.

“But too often it feels like they have been overlooked by policy makers as no more than glorified retailers. We now need to work together to ensure the right leadership provides a real challenge to current culture, so that the understated contribution of pharmacy is appreciated, valued and we make the most of it.”

Taiwo Owatemi MP for Coventry North West, commented: “The public would be shocked to learn that so many of our vital local pharmacies have been lost in recent years. As a qualified pharmacist, this hits home even harder. Because pharmacies play such an important role at the heart of their communities, going above and beyond for their patients on a daily basis.

“They have been a shining light for patients in the dark times of the pandemic and taken the strain off other sections of our health system. Looking ahead, we need to understand the value and work that our community pharmacists do every day. Not only do they provide a key link between individuals and a wider NHS but they are a vital part of our plan to address the health inequalities that many in my constituency and across the country, are seeing grow more and more.”

Janet Morrison OBE, chief executive of the PSNC, said: “Millions of people rely on their local pharmacy for healthcare advice and support, as well as critical medicines, so it’s very worrying to see pharmacies closing. Unfortunately it is no surprise: many pharmacy businesses are being forced to cut back on vital services by the unrelenting financial and operational pressures that they are facing.

“We need Government to invest urgently in pharmacies to ease these pressures, otherwise patients and the public can expect to see an end to more of the pharmacy services that they have come to value and rely on. We have been pleased to see so many Parliamentarians backing community pharmacies and thank them for their support.”

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the AIMP, commented: “It is encouraging to see so many MPs taking the time to recognize the value of community pharmacy. Care, professionalism, access and convenience are the real hallmarks which define our profession. Much is made of multidisciplinary working and integration right now so it is worth capturing that integration can only proceed at the speed of trust.

“Pharmacy has consistently delivered for patients and communities, particularly during the pandemic. Our sector needs a breathing space to heal and recover — it needs support and investment from decision makers that would allow pharmacies up and down the land improving outcomes for patients whilst ensuring value for money for patients, public and tax payers alike.”

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA said: “We were pleased to see Parliamentarians recognize the tremendous efforts of frontline pharmacy teams and the continued financial and workforce pressures pharmacy businesses of all sizes face.

“Pharmacy staff wish to do their bit to bust the backlog but can only do so if the sector receives the funding it truly deserves. It’s imperative that the Government invests in a sector that has delivered so much for the country in its hour of need, otherwise the prospect of further pharmacy closures looms large. The sector deserves a funding settlement that truly reflects its value to patients, the public and the NHS”.

Nick Kaye, vice chair of the NPA, commented: “Chronic underfunding has resulted in hundreds of pharmacy closures and MPs from all parties are clearly saying this can’t go on. Closures mean less capacity at a time when healthcare needs are growing, the NHS is under pressure and community-based provision needs to step up, not shrink.

“There are many more pharmacies holding back investment in staff, premises and services, as they struggle to make ends meet. Without sustained investment, community pharmacies like mine will be unable to play their full part in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic and an historic opportunity for transforming primary care will be lost.”

Thorrun Govind, English Pharmacy Board chair at the RPS, said: “Pharmacists have provided a lifeline for patient care throughout the pandemic and, with the right support, will play a key role in the NHS of the future. There is a huge opportunity for community pharmacy to help care for people closer to home, reduce health inequalities, and support the growing number of people living with long-term conditions.

“Exciting advances in personalized medicines and a new generation of pharmacist independent prescribers can revolutionize how we deliver patient care. But we also know there is huge pressure on pharmacy teams and it is vital they get the support they need so they can keep looking after patients.”

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