Last December the Department of Health wrote a letter to community pharmacists regarding the potential for greater use of community pharmacies and pharmacists. The letter referred to the role of community pharmacies in preventive health, healthy living, supporting self-care for minor ailments and also in helping to achieve a more integrated local care model. That is exactly the right direction we should be moving in.
I was fortunate enough to secure a Westminster Hall debate on the funding of community pharmacies at the start of this year. This all came about because the issue was raised in a constituency surgery I held in St Ives by Pharmacist Claire Davidson. I was also pleased to deliver a petition of 2 million signatures to Number 10.
I see community pharmacists as essential players in a new national health service equipped to meet the demands placed on it by modern society. In community pharmacy we have a front-line NHS service that is valued and able to embrace new clinical responsibilities, the demands of an ageing population, but it is looking to Government for some reassurance about its future particularly regarding how funding for community pharmacy goes forward.
In this constituency we have several independent community pharmacies and they are hugely important due to the size of the constituency and the presence of socially deprived areas. In a rural area such as ours, community pharmacies provide invaluable access to the NHS and invaluable support to vulnerable people. On this basis I'm reassured that the Government has indicated some protection for rural pharmacies and those found in deprived rural areas.
Funding of community pharmacies remains a concern and the community pharmacy sector has called for the Department of Health to use funds cut from the community pharmacy budget to fund a minor ailments service from 2017. This service would allow eligible people with a list of common health complaints to visit their pharmacy for advice, and, where appropriate, medicines at no cost. This could create significant savings for the NHS by ensuring that patients use pharmacies when they have minor conditions, hence preventing unnecessary GP appointments and A&E attendances.
I took part in the debate yesterday (02/11/16), as clarity is needed from the Department of Health regarding exactly what support they intend to make available to rural independent pharmacists. I also highlighted my support for ensuring that community pharmacies are involved in the process of integrating health and social care and increasing the services available to people locally.
In response to the Opposition, the Government answered with plans to further integrate community pharmacy into the NHS, make better use of pharmacists' clinical expertise and invest £112 million to deliver a further 1,500 pharmacists in general practice.