Covid-19: Community Pharmacies — [Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:35 pm on 11th March 2021.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 2:35 pm, 11th March 2021

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham, and also to follow a very knowledgeable former Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend Steve Brine. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price for securing this debate and for the lot of good work that she has been doing on the all-party parliamentary group on pharmacy.

I will be brief, as we are all saying pretty much the same thing. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will suggest some concrete measures that can make a difference, and specifically answers the questions that I will put. I have also written today to the Secretary of State and the Chancellor about support for pharmacies, and I am grateful for the conversation that I had with the Minister the day before yesterday about them.

First, we are attending this debate because we know what an important service pharmacies perform for communities, which they are embedded in. Pharmacies, especially independent pharmacies, are a friendly, valued and, above all, trusted voice. For the NHS and the nation, they take pressure off accident and emergency departments, GPs’ surgeries and other parts of the health service. At a modest cost, they deliver very significant benefits, and they are a critical part of primary care that pays significant dividends, as well as alleviating pressure elsewhere.

I have six independent pharmacies in my constituency and they are all highly valued: Yarmouth; Freshwater; Seaview; Ryde; and Regent, which has branches in both East Cowes and Shanklin. I talk to all the pharmacists regularly. Despite pharmacies’ significant role during covid, by remaining open they have incurred nationally costs of £370 million in staffing and other costs. I am delighted that the Prime Minister said in a recent press conference that that money was going to be reimbursed, but following the Budget we have not yet seen that money and I am none the wiser as to whether we will see it. Can the Minister therefore reassure us that the support promised will actually be seen through, and that that £370 million will reach pharmacists?

Secondly, hon. Members have already referred to the Ernst and Young report. Three quarters of independent pharmacies are under pressure and may be forced to close within the next 12 months, and between two thirds and three quarters of community pharmacies will potentially be in financial deficit by 2024, according to that report. I asked a written question about the report but was told that, as it was not in the public domain, the Government would not comment on it. That is not true; it is in the public domain and I would like the Government to comment on it. If the Government agree with what the report says, the Minister needs to act.

Thirdly, we know that independent pharmacies do not gain the discounts given to big multiples, which are often part of a single wholesale and retail chain. Why can the Minister not ensure that the independent pharmacies are paid the same and are allowed to make the same profit margins on prescriptions and other services?

Summing up, I know that the Minister has good plans for pharmacies, because she has talked them through with me in the past, and I am grateful to her for sparing that time. However, pharmacies need to be open and functioning if they are to take advantage of the plans that we have for them. There must be a financial model that allows pharmacies, especially independent pharmacies, to make a reasonable living for the exceptionally valuable work that they do nationally and in their communities. I look forward to hearing some solutions to these problems from the Minister.