It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham. I congratulate Jackie Doyle-Price on securing the debate. As we have heard, most community pharmacies have remained open throughout the pandemic, and many have worked extra hours because they have often been the only available source of medical advice. The pandemic delivery service has ensured that those shielding have been able to receive their prescriptions. Last winter, community pharmacies administered 2.6 million flu jabs. I had mine at Kings pharmacy in Cotteridge, administered by pharmacist Ameet Pancholi.
Measures to take pharmacies covid-safe cost money. Pharmacies have had to install door entry systems and counter screens, and buy their own PPE. They have been involved in supporting people with mental health issues, and in fielding dental and optical inquiries, for which they do not get paid. Ameet Pancholi had to employ extra drivers to ensure the delivery of prescriptions to vulnerable patients.
As with much of the health service, the Government do not seem to recognise the real costs. Pressures date back to the 2016 Budget cuts, which resulted in many closures, often in the most deprived areas. If drug prices rise, pharmacies lose out because they are tied to a pre-set NHS drug tariff. A recent Ernst and Young report concluded that our pharmacy network is unsustainable within the current framework. It projected that 72% of pharmacies would be in deficit by 2024. As we have heard, pharmacies received money to meet extra pandemic costs, but they say that they have spent rather more, and it turns out that that money was loan that will now be clawed back. What happened to “whatever it takes” and “all help necessary”?
Only 55 days ago, I received an email from NHS England extolling the virtues of community pharmacies. It told me that 200 of them were due to start delivering the covid vaccine. It quoted the Secretary of State as saying:
“It is fantastic that high-street pharmacies will now begin” administering the vaccine. He went on to say:
“Pharmacists have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often acting as the first port of call…and often staying open when all around have closed.”
It also quotes the Vaccines Minister as saying:
“Pharmacies play a vital role in caring for the nation”.
If Ministers want to keep these fantastic pharmacies, which they think play such a vital role, there is only one solution: we need a review of funding and the drug tariff, and they should be fully compensated for the costs incurred during the pandemic. That means converting the £370 million covid funding to a grant.