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Community Pharmacies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 2:04 pm, 2nd November 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Barron, who runs the all-party parliamentary group extremely well. I agree with much of what he says about the value of community pharmacy.

I start my brief remarks by thanking the people I was involved with in pharmacy for their immense courtesy at all times, even though we were talking about some very difficult things. Those people included my local pharmacists, Arif and Raj in Wootton; Graham Phillips of Harpenden, who spent a large amount of time showing me his shops and is still very engaged with me; those on Bedford local pharmaceutical committee, who invited me at a most difficult time to launch their healthy living pharmacies in the area; and of course my team in the Department of Health.

Instead of repeating the Minister’s statement and his commitment to pharmacy, I shall say a little about why we are where we are and what I found when I was dealing with pharmacy, and look ahead to the future. This is the sort of debate where the previous Minister finds that, owing to pressing parliamentary business, he is not able to attend the debate and he is somewhere else because all this is now nothing to do with him, guv. I thought that would be most unfair and I wanted to be here to support my hon. Friend and to give a little background.

The process started with the settlement made in 2015 between the Department of Health and the Treasury. In that settlement, extra money was released for the NHS, particularly in my portfolio—adult social care, mental health and primary care—but as was mentioned by Jonathan Ashworth in speaking for the Opposition, efficiency cuts were required throughout the NHS, as advocated by Simon Stevens. Part of that involved £170 million off the £2.8 billion for pharmacy. I thought that this was appropriate and that, once it was announced, we could work through it.

I regret the 3,000 figure that I gave to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley at a meeting with the APPG. It was a worst-case estimate, taking no account of what changes pharmacies might make to accommodate any reductions in finance, and therefore it was absolutely top-end. The reason that I gave it in conversation with colleagues—it was open and public and I have no objection to the figure being used—was to indicate that I was aware of the difficulty and that we wanted to work very hard to mitigate it, which we then started to do. But the 3,000 figure took on a life of its own. With hindsight, it might have been wiser if I had stuck to exactly what the Minister says, which is that we do not know because the Government do not have a plan to close pharmacies. They are not in a position to do that and we do not know what will happen.

I do not believe for an instant that the outcome will be as dramatic as Opposition Members have suggested, because businesses do adapt. One of the things that I found when I arrived, as several Members have said, is that 18% growth had taken place in 10 years. Pharmacies are a business and pharmacists will make adaptations to their business to cope, so we will have to wait and see what happens. I would not use the 3,000 figure again.