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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It would have been helpful to have had an impact assessment as the basis for debate, rather than having something that was published on the day of the announcement.
My hon. Friend alludes to the fact that the impact assessment on community pharmacy says that cuts to community pharmacies will increase patient health benefits
“by reallocating savings from community pharmacy funding to other uses”— a point the Minister made—
“ensuring that patient health is unaffected”.
Yet, polling commissioned by Pharmacy Voice shows that one in four patients would make an appointment at a GP if their local chemist was closed—a figure rising to four in five in more deprived communities such as my own in Barnsley.
There is no consideration whatever in the Government’s assessment of the potential downstream costs to other parts of the NHS budget, such as the pressure on GPs and A&E. The Department’s impact assessment does say that these cuts are
“expected to lead to reductions in the employment of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other pharmacy staff”,
so the Government are clear at least that local pharmacists—the people many of our constituents rely on—will go because of these cuts.
The impact assessment predicts that there will be a “corresponding increase” in other NHS employee numbers, so there will be “no net effect” on the NHS. That is completely without foundation. Are the Government really trying to tell us today that, for all their talk about the importance of community pharmacies and all the evidence about the pressures that will result on GPs and A&Es, which are already overstretched, the work of pharmacists in our local communities will, and should be, taken up by a corresponding increase in other NHS staff?
The impact assessment says:
“the modelling does not take any account of potential reduction in opening hours which may also affect access.”
You bet! New research published today and carried out by the National Pharmacy Association shows that, when faced with the Government’s budgetary cuts, 86% of community pharmacies are likely to limit or remove the home delivery of medicines to housebound patients; 77% of chemists say they will probably become more retail focused to deal with funding shortages—exactly the opposite of what the Minister hopes to achieve; and 54%—more than half—are likely to reduce their opening hours, which will limit patient access and put more strain on our already overstretched GP surgeries and A&E departments.
To sum up, the Government’s own impact assessment, which is well worth a read, if only for comedy value, reads as though it was written in haste on the back of a cigarette packet. The Government—rather like the Minister—are making up the policy as they go along. What Ministers are actually asking us to do today is to make a leap of faith: to turn a blind eye to all the evidence; to disregard all the warnings; to ignore the unanswered questions, the contradictory statements and the glaring omissions in the Government’s own case; to brush away expert opinion; and to dismiss the concerns of the public. Based on the Department’s own impact assessment, how can any right hon. or hon. Member possibly support the Government in the Lobby today?