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Community Pharmacies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 3:35 pm, 2nd November 2016

Let me begin by thanking Greg Burke of County Durham & Darlington local pharmaceutical committee for his valiant efforts in bringing the issue of cuts in community pharmacies to my attention. I also thank him for arranging my visit to Bowburn pharmacy, where I met Phyllis Whitburn, Nigel Nimmo, Len Britten and Hieu Truong Van. The visit reinforced my view that community pharmacies are vital to our communities, and especially to those in the ex-mining villages in my constituency, where they often provide a lifeline. The Minister has said that many pharmacies are within a 10-minute walk of two or more others, but that is simply not the case in many parts of my constituency.

I had hoped that all the lobbying that took place earlier this year, led by my hon. Friend Michael Dugher, would remind the Government of the excellent services that community pharmacies offer and how much money they ultimately save the NHS, and that that might persuade them to abandon the cuts agenda. It was therefore with great sadness that I listened to the Minister’s statement on 20 October, in which he outlined the cuts. No rationale for them was presented, and it seems odd that the Government have instigated them without waiting for the outcome of either the King’s Fund review or the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s review of community pharmacy services.

Let me also draw the Minister’s attention to the large body of research on community pharmacies that has been carried out by Durham University. It has established that they are very well placed to address health inequalities, that they are most prevalent and most used in the most disadvantaged areas, and, indeed, that 100% of people in most deprived areas could have access to one. It is very odd that the Government are cutting services that benefit those areas. The same point has also been made by the Local Government Association, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association and others. According to the LGA, the closure of community pharmacies could leave many isolated and vulnerable residents struggling to gain access to pharmacies, particularly in deprived and rural areas. The LGA has also drawn attention to the knock-on effect on local government services, which are suffering cuts as well.

The Minister ought to take up some of the points made in the PDA briefing that was sent to all of us before the debate. The Government should be thinking about regulating the wholesale margins, reviewing the margins of some of the larger companies, and reviewing the way in which community pharmacies and the pharmaceutical wholesale industry are organised. They should not be making these cuts in community pharmacy services.