It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank Jackie Doyle-Price for setting the scene, as she always does on such issues. I am very pleased to speak on this matter, because it is essential for me. I have often referred to pharmacies in my constituency, and I have often sent questions to the Minister here, and to the Minister whose responsibility they are back home as well.
Those pharmacies have reported much of the concern that has already been outlined by others, and they are in need of Government support. I have a good working relationship with pharmacies in my area and I visit them fairly regularly, but they are under additional pressure because of the recent strains relating to the Northern Ireland protocol. I know that the Minister is not responsible for the Northern Ireland protocol, but this debate is about pharmacies and the Northern Ireland protocol becomes part of that, as it always does with everything, for us in Northern Ireland anyway.
I was in contact with one of my local pharmacies, who spoke with other members of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland and outlined the following:
“Community Pharmacy NI has been in on-going local and national discussions in respect of matters relating to the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland, and has highlighted the continuing concerns in respect of continuity of supply from a Northern Ireland perspective in 2021/22 and beyond. There is a 12-month derogation in place and Mr Gove has requested that this be extended to 2023.”
That is good news because it helps us in the short term, but we need a long-term solution as well. It goes on:
“there is work being undertaken at policy and operational levels to resolve anticipated supply issues before they impact on contractors and patients here.”
So, we are seeing some conciliation and help for us in Northern Ireland, and we appreciate that.
Community Pharmacy NI continues:
“However, additional regulatory requirements post 2021 may put a significant burden on manufacturers for a small NI market”— it might be small, but it is crucial for us in Northern Ireland and for our constituents—
“and the fear is that this may force them to withdraw altogether from supplying here and that there may be significant disruption to the supply chain which will result in shortages.
There are also looming implementation dates for full compliance with HMRC and EHC requirements, which may impact on medicines movement. The potential shortage issue could be managed to a large degree by ensuring that the licensing status quo is retained as far as possible to allow the unfettered use of GB packs in Northern Ireland.
Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland provided a vital role in supporting patients, the health service and by maintaining medicines supply to patients during COVID.”
We have all said that.
“As we go forward now in 2021 can Government provide details/give assurances that work is ongoing to identify and quantify any possible medicines shortages and to put in place sufficient measures and contingencies to deal with any anticipated issues in respect of medicines supplies to Northern Ireland?”
Can the Minister respond to that today? If not, can she respond to it further down the line?
Local pharmacies are a focal point of villages and communities across my constituency. Throughout the pandemic, the community pharmacies have battled through as a lifeline for people. In the same way that we owe a debt to the NHS, I believe we also owe a debt to local pharmacies, who did their utmost to keep it together and keep going. There must be a better use of them to relieve the pressure on the NHS. I believe that pharmacies are at the frontline to do that. They could be addressing issues to do with diabetes, minor ailments or small medication problems.
I end by putting on record my sincere thanks to all the pharmacists, technicians and staff who kept making the packs, were available for assistance, and kept their doors open and medication flowing. We could not have done it without them, and now is the time to do right by them.