It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price on securing this debate.
We all know that the pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on our health services. That, for me, includes pharmacies. I consider pharmacies to be frontline medical services and a really important part of patient care. I emphasise that view, which is clearly shared among those of us in this debate, but I do not think it is a view universally held across the health sector.
Before going any further, I should declare an interest. Many years ago, I worked for Kingfisher and I had responsibility for pharmacy marketing and Superdrug, among other things. As a result, I spent considerable time with pharmacists and understood the value that people place on them. I saw at first hand the expertise and care, and have had much respect and affection for the sector ever since.
This debate is focused on the current crisis. The way that the whole sector has responded—the NHS, pharmacies, the pharmaceutical companies; everybody—has been truly impressive. They have showed agility, which is not always what we expect in large organisations. Their working together has perhaps also taken them to new places.
Pharmacies have remained open and accessible places of advice and reassurance, and, above all, sources of vital medicines. Keeping that flowing was critical. Pharmacies have adapted to new rules and used their positions of trust and authority to really help patients.
I saw a little bit of that doing some volunteering for the Harrogate Easier Living Project. It has not been the quietest time for MPs or I would have done a little more. I helped deliver prescriptions to those who were shielding and visited a number of pharmacies across the constituency as a result. I was impressed by the actions they had taken to keep people safe and to continue their vital work.
When the NHS was rightly dealing with the immediate urgency of this crisis, pharmacies took a pace forward and helped with health advice. They took the pressure off other parts of the system. That is my key point: pharmacists are key frontline health workers. They are owed a debt of thanks and I put my thanks on the record.
The pandemic has shown what pharmacies can do. There is the work of the pharmacy-led vaccination centres. In Knaresborough in my constituency, we have a vaccination centre run by the local company, Homecare Pharmacy Services, at the former Lidl store. It is going great guns. It has the capacity to do 1,000 vaccinations a day, and I have heard nothing but positive reports.
Looking ahead, I can see a role for pharmacies in helping with the likely winter covid booster jab, which is probably going to be part of all our futures, and a role in helping people who take several medicines as they manage what the NHS cheerfully calls “multiple comorbidities”, alongside their regular care and the community value that they bring, day in, day out.
My message is that pharmacies do a lot. They have shown us that, and that they could do more. They have the expertise and trust. They should be at the heart of how frontline health services are planned. A stable, secure pharmacy sector, planning and supported for the future, will be able to add a huge contribution to the health of our nation.