The government proposals
In December 2015, the Department of Health (DH) announced its intention to reduce the level of funding for community pharmacies in England, starting with a cut of £170m (six per cent) from October 2016. At the same time, it wants to encourage ‘efficiencies’ such as the online supply of medicines. The DH has indicated it believes that there are currently too many pharmacies in England, and that it expects that many will eventually close as a result of the changes.
What this means for patients
The current direction of policy, if not challenged, could have serious implications for patients. The closure of pharmacies will reduce people’s access to medicines and healthcare advice, and put extra pressure on GPs and hospitals. Local pharmacies can be a lifeline for the most vulnerable people and the most deprived communities, and their closure could have a serious impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
People should be able to choose where they get their medicines from and online supply is convenient for some. However, not everyone wants to, or is able to, order their medicines online. More importantly, local pharmacies are much more than places to get medicines. They provide a range of NHS services and enable people to get face-to-face professional advice without needing to make an appointment. Pharmacies are a key component of community life in neighbourhoods across the country.
No proper assessment has yet been made by the Department of Health about the potential impact on patient care of its proposals. Nor has there been an assessment about the impact on other services such as GPs. It would surely be irresponsible for Ministers and officials to proceed until they can guarantee that the proposals safeguard the most vulnerable patients and communities, as well as maintain consumer choice, convenient medicines supply and access to face-to-face advice.
The campaign against the proposals
The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has been at the forefront of the campaign to secure the future of local pharmacies. We are very grateful for the support of patients and concerned citizens throughout. This includes the two million people who signed a petition that we delivered recently to Downing Street, and all those who have attended rallies.
We want government officials to sit down with us to discuss an alternative path. The right approach should maximise: patient choice, with a vibrant mix of local pharmacies; access to face-to-face, professional advice without an appointment about medicines and health; opportunities for health improvement interventions, such as stop smoking advice; provision for the most vulnerable people and populations, to reduce health inequalities; and maintain a resilient medicines supply system, so that patients can be sure to get their medicines promptly. Overall, it should strengthen the NHS by taking pressure off the system and ensure that quality care is delivered consistently. By working together, we can make the pharmacy sector and the health system overall more efficient, whilst ensuring that no patient is left behind.
You can find out more and get involved by:
- Visiting the Support Your Local Pharmacies (SYLP) website at www.supportyourlocalpharmacy.org
- Liking and sharing the SYLP Facebook page
- Using #lovemypharmacy #savemypharmacy when posting on Twitter
- Visiting your local pharmacy