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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:56 pm on 11th March 2021.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 2:56 pm, 11th March 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, not only for securing the debate today, but for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pharmacy, and across the health space more generally.

All those who have participated today have shown how important pharmacy is to every one of us. The voices of my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), for Henley (John Howell), for Winchester (Steve Brine), for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and for Southend West (Sir David Amess) joined those of the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Bootle (Peter Dowd). Everyone recognised how important community pharmacy is in their community, and I want to join in the thanks given to that community today and say how much I value what it does on the frontline. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said, pharmacy workers are key, skilled frontline workers and deliver over and above, every day, to our communities. I repeat the thanks of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and add my gratitude.

The fact that pharmacy workers are a key part of our NHS family, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock said, and have risen unfailingly to the many, varied and enormous challenges of the pandemic should not go unnoticed. There are 11,210 pharmacies sitting at the heart of our communities. They are easily accessible: 80% of them are within 20 minutes for someone walking there. They are highly rated, as many hon. Members have said, and highly trusted. Throughout the pandemic they have stayed open and served their communities. They have provided vital pharmaceutical services. Medicines are not something that people can choose to have or not have.

I am immensely proud to stand here as the Minister for pharmacy, and I thank everyone involved in community pharmacy for their hard work, whether they talk to patients every day or are involved in the vaccine roll-out or the broader team. From the times I have spoken to them, I know that they are tired. They have worked unbelievably hard for the past year. I do not think that, when this started, anyone anticipated that it would go on week after week. They have been working evenings and weekends, and I would like to thank them for it.

Hon. Members might recall that we agreed a five-year deal back in July 2019, before the pandemic. It commits almost £13 billion to community pharmacy—just under £2.6 billion a year—and was the joint vision of Government, NHS England and the pharmaceutical negotiating committee, the PSNC, for how community pharmacy will support the delivery of the NHS long-term plan, and patients.

As we have heard from many, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, there is so much more that pharmacies are saying they want to do for our communities. Having spoken to many pharmacists and their teams, I know that using their full skillset is something they would welcome. It is what they want to do and what they want to see happen.

Over the period of the five-year deal, community pharmacy will be more integrated into the NHS and will deliver more clinical services, taking pressure off other areas in the NHS, as the first port of call for minor illnesses. That recognises, importantly, the skill base in the sector. To that end, more than 2,800 pharmacists each year go into training at the current time; there are more than 10,000 in training at the moment. We are making sure that, as the current cohort come out, they are equipped to be part of that future high-skilled workforce, enhancing their skills for consultation and so on.