Writing exclusively for Pharmacy Business, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, the new chair of the APPG for pharmacy, pledges to make the case for community pharmacy in the corridors of power…

I am delighted to have been elected as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pharmacy Group. I have believed for a long time that community pharmacies could play a much bigger role in delivery of health services.

They are the front door to our NHS. They have good relationships with their users. They are a source of medical expertise and advice at the heart of our communities and their doors are always open. It is an honour and privilege to have the opportunity to speak up for this amazing sector of our economy.

So far as the NHS establishment is concerned however, it is treated as something of a Cinderella service. There are some in NHS England who see pharmacists as little more than glorified shopkeepers rather than the medical professionals they are.

The NHS prioritises hospitals and acute services for funding and pharmacy is very much at the back of a long queue. I really feel that this is missing a trick. There are many services that our pharmacists could deliver much more efficiently than GPs. This can be more convenient for patients and it can free up more capacity in the NHs.

So what is not to like?

Heroic response
If anything, this pandemic has brought this very much to the fore. Community pharmacies have responded heroically during the pandemic in the face of unprecedented pressures. In truth they have kept the NHS standing.

While GPs closed their doors, pharmacies were forced to fill the gap. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty, especially in regard to vulnerable and shielding patients. It is a contribution that has gone unrecognised and taken for granted for too long. So I will take every opportunity I can to remind NHS England just how much is owed to our pharmacists.

NHS England also must face up to the impact on the sector. Satisfying demand against a back drop of rising drug prices; supply challenges and staffing constraints has pushed many pharmacies to breaking point. I am making the case for extra financial resources, to ensure pharmacists and their teams have the support they need to continue their vital frontline work.

‘Heroic response from community pharmacy during pandemic’

Enthusiastic ministers
It is heartening that the secretary of state Matt Hancock and pharmacy minister Jo Churchill are very mindful of the contribution that pharmacies make. Both have made very positive public statements which illustrate a very positive direction of travel.

I am keen that we take advantage of this opportunity that we have with two key ministers being so enthusiastic about the sector.

The recent EY report illustrates that action is needed now before it is too late. Without changes to funding it is estimated that more than three quarters of community pharmacies will be losing more than £40,000 a year by 2024.

Making a case
I will be making the case for the following:

Repayments of the £370m advance payments made to the sector to be written off to relieve the immediate financial pressures on community pharmacies. The advanced payments made to the sector in the early months of the pandemic were welcome.

However, the payments were not nearly enough to cover the financial pressures brought on by Covid-19 and many pharmacy contractors simply cannot afford to repay this.

A boost to overall community pharmacy funding in recognition of the very great financial pressures facing the sector and the critical and valuable pharmacies have undertaken during the pandemic.

There are now a huge number of informal patient consultations taking place in pharmacies, with much of this work being displaced from general practice. Pharmacies are going above and beyond to support patients, and this must be recognised financially.

Continued access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid access to Covid-19 testing to keep pharmacy teams safe. Pharmacy teams provide a crucial frontline service to the public and it is vital their safety is prioritised so they can continue to be a lifeline to communities.

I look forward to working with fellow parliamentarians and with pharmacists to deliver on this agenda.

This is a hugely challenging time for all of us and it is all the more important that those of us in parliament who believe in community pharmacy make the case loudly and robustly.

Jackie Doyle-Price MP is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pharmacy Group.

This opinion piece also featured in the print edition of Pharmacy Business/November 2020.

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