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I declare an interest, as my wife works as a community pharmacist just outside my constituency. It is probably fair to say that from my discussions with her and with my local pharmacists, I know the valuable work they do and the pressures on them, as well as they changes that they would like so that they can give a better service.
The Public Accounts Committee has had nine or 10 inquiries in the past year or so looking at the pressure on NHS finances and the various deficits in the system. It is therefore quite hard to stand up and say that the Government are completely wrong to try to find some efficiency savings from the pharmacy budget, or that we should just ignore the £3 billion or so paid to pharmacies each year without trying to find some savings. If we are going to hit the efficiency target across the NHS of £22 billion during this Parliament, while having all the services we want, we will have to accept such savings in every area, although it is not going to be easy wherever they fall. I can therefore see the logic of why the Government need to look at the pharmacy budget.
I also accept the logic that although the system we have ended up with, in which we give each pharmacy a fixed “establishment payment”, may well have been suitable when we had a very controlled regime, under which a licence had to be got to open a new pharmacy, it probably did not fit well with the old 100-hour regime, under which there was a vast expansion in the number of pharmacies across the country. It is right to look at that system. It may also be right to look at the 100-hour pharmacies to see exactly what the rules for them should be.
I welcome the pharmacy access scheme, which is a very welcome improvement on what was originally suggested for this round of cuts. Two pharmacies in my constituency will benefit from it. I met both pharmacists when the cuts were first announced. Those pharmacies provide the only health provision in the villages they serve, so it is vital for them to be saved.