It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham. I thank Jackie Doyle-Price for bringing this issue before us today. She is right to say that pharmacies need our support now. They have played a crucial role as an integral part of our health service, which is under stress and strain at the best of times, and that is all the more the case during the covid pandemic. Pharmacies continue to play an even more important role, if that is possible, during this crisis. They have been there to support our communities when people could not access GP services. We have heard so many times during the crisis that people did not seek advice from their GP, local walk-in centre or hospital because they did not want to put even more of a strain on those services. Of course, many of them got the help and support that they requested, and it was from pharmacies. On behalf of my constituency, I would like to thank all the pharmacies that have helped during this crisis.
As the hon. Lady says, all the warm words we express count for nothing if that is all we do. Words are meaningless without action to back them up. Pharmacists have had enough words to last them a lifetime, so I will cut to the chase. First, the Government should review the response from pharmacies during the pandemic and re-evaluate a clear vision of what we need from these undervalued and vital frontline healthcare workers. It is not good enough to take pharmacies for granted. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is how hard-pressed yet responsive our pharmacies have been during the crisis.
Secondly, the NHS and the Government should enable pharmacists to do more, as the hon. Lady said, by giving additional resources for training and support for this vital sector. The Test and Trace system has been given £22 billion, with another £15 billion in the pipeline. That is almost £600 per person to run a system that, at best, has been mediocre in terms of its returns. Frankly, a fraction of that resource could be put back to pharmacies. That would have a higher rate of return, be more productive and have a better outcome for our constituents.
Thirdly, a reassessment of the value of pharmacies, especially by finance teams in the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS, would be welcome. When was the last time any real assessment of the value of pharmacies was undertaken by the Department or NHS finance teams in a comprehensive fashion that has led to any real support for the sector?
Fourthly, the Government should write off the advance payments as an immediate way of providing relief. Additionally, they should re-evaluate the financial implications of asking pharmacies to pay back the £370 million advance. This is crucial, given that pressures are pushing many community pharmacies to the edge. Quite simply, payments have not been enough to cover the financial pressures brought on by covid-19.
Fifthly, and linked the points above, the sustainability of pharmacies is crucial. That is why the all-party parliamentary group on pharmacy is giving them its support.
I urge the Government, before it is too late, to consider that current funding levels may already be causing irreversible damage. It is time for us to give our local pharmacists—for example, Dr Lisa Manning, the CEO of my local pharmaceutical committee—and their colleagues a shot in the arm. It is time to support them, and the time is now.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.