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I will not go through the many arguments made by hon. Members, but the reason I do not support the Opposition motion is that I do not agree with their argument about funding. The current funding system for pharmacies in this country is not working. Pharmacies have grown organically in a haphazard way, not necessarily meeting the needs of patients or the changing demands of healthcare.
I find it extraordinary that Opposition Members are satisfied that big national companies such as Sainsbury’s, Boots and Asda, many of which make profits of £1 billion a year, are being funded with NHS money, which goes to each and every one of their branches. That is completely unacceptable. [Interruption.] I will not give way because there is not enough time. I agree with Dr Whitford that the money that is saved through these changes must go to community pharmacies and away from big business.
I have severe concerns about the proposals on the table, however, and I have met the Minister to raise them. The first is my fear that the role of the pharmacist is not properly understood. As a practising nurse, I see at first hand every day the role that pharmacists play in safeguarding patients. Doctors often make out prescriptions that are wrong or do not take into account current medications a patient is on. That is where the pharmacist comes in. Thinking that pharmacists simply stand at a counter, pick a box off a shelf and put a sticker on it is misguided; they do a huge amount more.
Another concern is the proposal or recommendation that we move towards either GP dispensing or GP practices housing pharmacists. I know from talking to my GP practices that they are bursting at the seams. It is not as simple as installing a pharmacist at a practice; pharmacists need storage space for their medication, temperature-controlled rooms and space to make up that medication. I know that my GP practices do not have that space right now. I also have concerns about GPs’ taking on dispensing; as I have said, pharmacists have a crucial role in safeguarding patients. Who will pick up those mistakes, or look at patient medication or drug interaction if no pharmacist is there?
My biggest concern—again, this point was made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire—is that this is a huge missed opportunity. We are doing things the wrong way round. We should be looking at the system and at patients’ needs. We should follow the excellent model currently running in Scotland and learn from it, rather than thinking, “We need to save money. How can we best do that?”
As many Members have mentioned, there is some obvious stuff that pharmacists are doing now.