It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank Jackie Doyle-Price for securing this crucial debate. As a qualified pharmacist, I know the important role that community pharmacists play at the heart of communities, going above and beyond for their patients on a daily basis. I thank those in my constituency such as Allesley pharmacy and Rotherham Road pharmacy for their ongoing hard work. Since the start of the pandemic, much of our high street has shut up shop, faced with the unique threats that covid presents. Community pharmacies, on the other hand, have opened their doors to all those who need them. They quickly adapted their services to be covid secure, and offered face-to-face advice and healthcare on a walk-in basis when communities needed it most. They have been a shining light in the dark times for our high street and taken the strain off other sections of our health system.
We should celebrate the innovation shown by community pharmacists. Pandemic delivery services ensured that patients shielding at home were able to access their prescriptions without putting themselves at risk, and pharmacists reviewed the medication for those discharged from hospital, helping patients manage their medicines properly, reducing confusion and improving patient safety. They have used their expertise to support the national covid-19 vaccination programme, making it easier for many to receive the vaccination at their own convenience, from a familiar trusted face.
However, these changes have come at a huge cost, both financially and emotionally. Pharmacies have been left to fund the increased staffing costs, PPE, cleaning and social distancing measures that came with the effects of covid. Coupled with a reduction in over-the-counter sales and services, many are now facing serious financial challenges. Yet pharmacies have received no targeted funding for their efforts. Instead, this Government have taken advantage of the good will. From the ongoing effects of the devastating cuts of 2016, to the unforeseen cuts of the last year, pharmacies have been left in the lurch, forced to fend for themselves.
The systemic underfunding has put community pharmacies in dire straits and many owners have been left having to use their own money to keep these vital parts of our community afloat. A third of pharmacies and businesses in England are now in deficit and many have closed for good. It is counterintuitive that pharmacies are being forced to close in the midst of the pandemic. If we do not act now to stop the loss of community pharmacies, our high streets will be hit hard and many of the most desperate and deprived will lose their main link to NHS services. Only by picking up the extra costs faced by pharmacists and writing off the £370 million in emergency loans—that most will struggle to ever repay—can the Government ever hope to fulfil their promise to do whatever it takes.
Looking ahead, we need to understand the value and work that our community pharmacists do every day. Not only do they provide a key link between individuals and a wider NHS but they are a vital part of our plan to address the health inequalities that many in my constituency and across the country, are seeing grow more and more. Our pharmacists have a fantastic set of skills, and a broad knowledge and expertise that can take some of the burden from the overstretched primary care network. I hope the Minister will listen to what has been said, because now we need active steps to give community pharmacists guaranteed support grants and to fully fund the enhanced community and public healthcare and covid-19 booster vaccinations. The Minister and his colleagues in the Treasury should remember that the success of pharmacies does not simply keep our communities healthy. They also inject life into our high street—which themselves have been ravaged by the pandemic. An investment in pharmacists is an investment in public health, local economies and preventing future pandemics having the startling impact that we have seen in the past year. This is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.