We have already been growing the range of NHS services available in pharmacies: we have set up the community pharmacist consultation service, the discharge medicines service, the new medicine service, the blood pressure check service, smoking-cessation services and the contraception service. We are now investing £645 million to go further through the new Pharmacy First scheme for common conditions.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but does he agree that the services offered by pharmacies can be made more efficient? For example, 62 million prescription items are subject to “split and snip” per year. That is where, to get the right number of pills, a pack has to be manually opened up for a couple of pills to be snipped out, then repackaged and relabelled before being reissued. The spare pills are often thrown away. Can that system not be better?
My hon. Friend is completely correct. That is why at the end of last month we laid a statutory instrument before the House to fix the system, so that pharmacists can spend more time using their skills to provide high-end clinical services and less time snipping blister packs.
Given the national shortage of GPs, does the Minister recognise that there is a potential danger in asking pharmacists to take on the duties of GPs—duties that they are not necessarily qualified to undertake—especially given the already large workload undertaken by pharmacists?
We absolutely recognise the need for patient safety, which is why there will be clear patient group directions and clear pathways about what pharmacists do. They are not taking on the role of GPs, but are providing additional services that will make things more convenient for all of our constituents.
I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to investing £645 million to enable pharmacists to provide for far more common conditions. I have already visited one of my own local surgeries, the Shakespeare Road medical practice, and seen at first hand how pharmacists are already working in GP surgeries to try to reduce waiting times. Surely, more surgeries should be doing the same, involving pharmacists with enhanced roles in order to cut waiting times in a manner that is safe.
My right hon. Friend is completely correct. That £645 million, of course, comes on top of the £100 million that we have already put in. We have grown the pharmacy workforce hugely—there are 82% more pharmacists now than in 2010—and we are also enabling those people with their high-end skills to do more by reforming regulations. That is not just the blister packs issue; we are enabling them to do convenient things such as hand out bagged medicines even if the pharmacist is not present.
Absolutely, and I always try to learn lessons from right across the UK. In fact, some of the ideas for reforms have come from listening to local partners. For example, our reforms to enable modern ways of working, hub-and-spoke dispensing and empowering pharmacy technicians have come from talking to those local partners.
People across the country rely on local, accessible pharmacies, but whether it is high street closures or supply problems leading to the absurd situation where women are phoning or visiting multiple pharmacies for a prescribed dose of hormone replacement therapy and other drugs, the Government are again letting people down. They have repeatedly announced plans to expand the role of community pharmacies, but have failed to update legislation that could possibly help. They keep collapsing the business in this place, so we have time to sort it. Why will they not do so?
I have given a flavour of the four different reforms we are making. To give the wider picture, there are more pharmacies in England than there were in 2010, there are 24,000 more pharmacists in England than there were in 2010 and we are putting in £645 million to provide a bunch of services that were not there when Labour was in office. We are very happy to take lessons from the pharmacy sector, but not from the Labour party.