It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price on securing this important debate, especially as pharmacists really have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic. Not only have their doors remained open to their customers for their regular services but they have also picked up huge demands for minor ailment consultations, medicine deliveries for people avoiding GPs and staying at home, and so on.
In Carshalton and Wallington, I pay particular tribute to my local community pharmacists for their extraordinary efforts over the past year, and for their strong lobbying on behalf of the sector, including Sanjay from Sutton pharmacy, Jaymil from Hackbridge and Anna pharmacies, and Alfie from MPS pharmacy. Of course, I know that the Minister will know Reena from S G Barai pharmacy. She does a lot of lobbying on behalf of the sector in the UK, and I am so proud that she operates a pharmacy in my constituency.
The increase in workload has taken its toll, as we have heard. Pharmacists tell us that they have worked late into the night and over the weekend without a break in order to keep up. That highlights a real problem: they have not been recompensed for much of the additional work that they have taken on. It has also demonstrated a great opportunity for the NHS—something that I know the Minister recognises but that I hope NHS England will also recognise and grasp with both hands.
Having worked in the NHS myself, I know first hand about the significant pressures on demand for GP appointments and A&E capacity, but we know that many people presenting at GPs and even at hospital could be seen by a pharmacist first. The talents and abilities of pharmacists were massively under-utilised before the pandemic began, and I argue that we need to unlock that capacity to ease pressures on the NHS and create a new culture of “pharmacy first” within the UK.
I will quickly make three points. First, I will outline what more pharmacists could do if we let them. I do not have time to go into any great detail, but they should be on the frontline of the prevention agenda, helping their customers with such things as obesity, smoking and drinking. They should also be providing a huge range of additional services. Any and all vaccinations could be done at a pharmacy, as could sexual health screenings and HIV testing, and they could have greater powers to prescribe, to name just a few.
Secondly, pharmacies should be better represented at strategic planning level, with representation in clinical commissioning groups and integrated care systems, for example, to ensure that they form part of the conversation about the delivery of health and care within our local communities.
Finally and most importantly, as has been well covered and eloquently set out by colleagues, pharmacies have to be adequately funded for the work that they do. Time prevents me again from going into any great detail, but I echo calls from colleagues to look at the recommendations of the APPG, at turning loans into grants, at the Ernst and Young report, and at formally making pharmacies part of our frontline NHS and using existing primary care resources where necessary to ensure that that can happen.
I will finish by thanking yet again the pharmacies in my constituency and across the country for their extraordinary efforts. I know how valued they are by my constituents, so I hope that we can secure them greater responsibilities and appropriate funding to create that “pharmacy first” culture in the UK.