Peer draws attention to ‘unprecedented’ pressures in parliamentary debate

This week, in a House of Lords debate on the Autumn Statement, Baroness Cumberlege dedicated her speech to the unprecedented pressures the community pharmacy sector is facing.

Baroness Cumberlege began her speech by referencing the positive contribution that pharmacy makes to the wider health service.

“They are the most accessible part of our health service. Six million people visit a pharmacy every day…no other part of the NHS sees that huge number of people each day…They provide billions of prescription medicines every year safely and promptly. They can intervene with advice on good health, diet, exercise, how to stop smoking and so on. They provide millions of flu jabs and Covid vaccinations. They also do much more, but without people having to make an appointment.”

“The fact is that we and the NHS would be in real trouble if pharmacies were not there.”

She then went on to warn that the sector is currently in a very fragile position and said “there is a real risk that pharmacies will not be there unless action is taken urgently”.

“Community pharmacies have seen a decrease of 25% in the funding that they get from the Department of Health and NHS England since 2016. Many are now running at a loss, forced to cut back on services and opening times—Many will face permanent closure if we do not act now.”

The thrust of her speech focussed on illustrating why the current funding model is out of date.

“Pharmacies are providing 65 million consultations to the public every year, and yet the funding model does not pay for that. They are dispensing many medicines at a loss because the funding model does not properly recognise the real costs. Because of staffing shortages, they have had to use locums, but the cost of a locum has increased by 50% since 2019, and the funding model does not pay for that.”

She then suggested what needs to happen to mitigate this ‘financial crisis’.

“In the short term, a modest but fair uplift is urgently needed, so that pharmacies can keep their doors open and continue to serve those millions of people who rely on them day in, day out. In the medium term, we need a new funding model that is realistic and provides stability.’”

In her final remarks she called for the commissioning of a Pharmacy First service, suggesting that:

“It will free up capacity so that GPs and hospitals can see those patients that they really need to see. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee estimates that it will save £640 million a year. In the context of the NHS budget of over £160 billion, the cost of Pharmacy First would be a drop in the ocean”.

She ended by saying that “For many cities, towns and villages, [pharmacies] place is in the heart of the communities that they serve, essential to the health and well-being of the local population.”

Baroness Cumberlege’s comments are aligned with PSNC’s four point plan to secure the future of community pharmacy which we recently launched in Parliament.

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