It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, which I am grateful to Jackie Doyle-Price for securing. I think we all agree with the hon. Lady that the sector is valued. There can be no doubt that, throughout these islands, pharmacies play a vital role in our communities, and they have gone above and beyond that during the covid crisis.
Health is a devolved matter, of course, and in Scotland we do things a little differently, which means I often feel like a foreign observer during debates about pharmacies and healthcare in England. We have heard from a number of speakers about the different practices that affect their parts of England, and I hope that my observations from Scotland may also be of interest to Members. I have commented in a few debates that there are often lessons that we can learn from one another, and good practices that can be shared. This issue provides an excellent case in point.
Community pharmacies were developed in Scotland 15 years ago and are there for minor ailments, chronic medication and public health services. These services involve pharmacists more in the community in the provision of direct patient-centred care. It may be worth pointing out that prescriptions are free in Scotland, and that fact enabled the development of the minor ailment service across Scotland, which in turn has evolved into our Pharmacy First service, launched last July. Originally planned to start in April 2020, it was delayed to allow pharmacy teams to focus on managing the covid-19 pandemic. It is backed by £7.5 million of investment in 2021-22, rising to £10 million by 2022-23.
The Pharmacy First approach removes huge pressure from GPs and A&E services and allows the public to access treatments more easily across some 1,200 pharmacies located throughout Scotland, and with the greater flexibility of longer opening hours. Community pharmacists can only give out certain medicines and products, but the benefits of this are massive because it can cut the workload of GPs and other NHS staff across the country. Pharmacists are located throughout communities in Scotland, from rural areas to the deprived inner cities, providing pharmaceutical care on behalf of NHS Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s policy remains that, wherever possible, people across Scotland should have local access to NHS pharmaceutical care. From
The covid pandemic has flagged up examples of both good and bad behaviour from our fellow citizens. We have heard tremendous examples today of how pharmacists have adapted to the challenges over the past year, providing vital lifelines in so many of our communities. The work and efforts from our pharmacists have been a great example for us all. The growth in abuse faced by pharmacy staff, on the other hand, is of particular concern. That pharmacy staff are needing to wear body cameras to protect themselves speaks volumes about the world we now live in, and my praise goes to the Pharmacists’ Defence Association for its work in combating threatening and abusive behaviour. We must all support, and give leadership to, a zero-tolerance approach.
In conclusion, we have seen societal change from before the pandemic to where we are now, and indicators of what may emerge in the future, with more people than before now treating their minor ailments at home with the support of pharmacies. We should encourage this transition to continue, in order to alleviate the strain that minor ailments place on the NHS, such as in A&E. Scotland’s Pharmacy First programme is an example of how this is possible.