Over 200 local constituents have recently petitioned me regarding possible proposed changes to NHS funding for local pharmacies. It demonstrates how much people care about and value their local services and can use their democratic right to oppose any changes that they think do not make sense. It forces the Government to make its case.
Alistair Burt, Minister of State for Health, in a speech made on 24 February, acknowledged that this issue is not going away any time soon and the Department of Health is half way through a negotiation on the subject.
The problem is of course money and where it is best spent. Spending on health continues to grow, with a £10 billion real terms increase in NHS funding in England between 2014/15 and 2020/21. This will focus on lifesaving treatments and the Government expects to spend up to an extra £2 billion per year on the new drugs that patients need by the end of 2020.
We still the need the NHS to deliver £22 billion in efficiency savings by 2020/21 as set out in the NHS's own plan, the Five Year Forward View.
Community pharmacy is a core part of NHS primary care. A clinically focussed pharmacy service that is better integrated with primary care and public health will help relieve the pressure on GPs and A&Es, ensure better use of medicines and better patient outcomes, and contribute to delivering seven-day services.
The Government wants to transform the system to deliver efficiency savings and ensure the model of community pharmacy reflects patient and public expectations as well as developments in technology. It wants to promote the use of online, click and collect or home delivery models, to help patients to get their prescriptions in a way that fits into their lifestyle.
The aim is community pharmacies that people depend on continue to thrive. The Government is consulting on introducing a Pharmacy Access Scheme, to provide more NHS funds to certain pharmacies based on factors such as location and local needs.
The Government is also consulting on a Pharmacy Integration Fund to transform the way community pharmacy operates in the NHS to benefit patients.
Pharmacy services should move with the times and that we should better utilise the skills of pharmacists to be more than simply dispensers of prescriptions. Pharmacists must play a front-line role in healthcare providing advice to people on self-care, compliance with medication, diet, smoking cessation and more, as well as giving vaccinations.
Pharmacy in the UK is amongst the most liberalised in Europe with pharmacy chains and internet pharmacy permitted and non-prescription medicines available outside of pharmacies, which encourages competition.
I hope we can produce an even more consumer based approach with better services, such as home delivery, as well as to minimise medicines wastage and maximise environmentally safe disposal of unused medicines.
However, whether this can be delivered with well-loved network of existing pharmacies remains to be seen. But politicians, including me, have firmly got the point about just have much they are appreciated.