Today I am calling on the government to back the Mirror’s campaign to save family chemists.
Our local chemists, some of the quiet heroes of the NHS, are being abandoned to financial ruin through consistent underfunding and the costs of staying open during coronavirus.
The Mirror has highlighted an Ernst & Young report showing that three-quarters may be forced to close by 2024. As an MP who has taken an interest in local pharmacy issues for many years, I know the root cause of this crisis.
Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, does not see the value in local pharmacies and believes there are too many in the network. Rather than a key part of the NHS, he sees them as glorified retailers who add little value.
Meanwhile, bean-counting civil servants in the Treasury have been quibbling over an increase in pharmacy funding that represents a minuscule proportion of the NHS budget, but would keep thousands of pharmacies from going to the wall.
They are also refusing to fully repay the emergency costs incurred from staying open during COVID.
This axis of indifference is the reason that family chemists are pulling their hair out in despair and frustration.
I believe the Secretary of State for Health does not share this short-sighted view – and neither or do many MPs who understand just how important and cost-effective these pharmacies are.
Indeed, independent pharmacies are the one of the most cost-effective parts of the NHS. The 11,500 strong network costs only £2.6 billion a year, and the increase that is needed is only £300-£400 million and the index-linking of pharmacy funding.
Opinion polls show that patients too are behind their local chemists and see them as crucial to the future of the NHS. This has been reinforced by the brave and vital work they have done during the coronavirus crisis, staying physically open when so many healthcare providers have closed their doors.
The vast majority of the public (77%) say it is important to have face-to-face contact with their pharmacist, and more than half (55%) visited a pharmacy between March and June alone. A strong pharmacy sector will be crucial if we are to succeed in the fight against COVID.
The number of pharmacies and their closeness to local communities also means they could play a much bigger role in tackling the NHS backlog, taking pressure off doctors and hospitals, and supporting public health. But they cannot do this if they struggling to stay afloat.
It’s time to get behind our local chemists and avert a national tragedy.