As one of the many pharmacists who have approached their MP asking for support following the announced community pharmacy funding cuts in England of £170m in 2016–2017 (equivalent to a reduction of 6% of the total budget), I watched the debate unfold within our profession with interest and unease.
The proposed cuts are wrong. They will not result in high quality, cost-efficient, patient-centred community pharmacies. Now is the time for community pharmacists to speak up about the way our profession should develop. I am keen to see community pharmacists moving away from traditional supply roles in favour of medicines optimisation and clinical care but this kind of cutback will not support the transition.
Recently I found out that my local MP, Derek Thomas, was holding a drop-in surgery for independent businesses. I thought twice about attending (I am on maternity leave). Would it not be better to stay at home and let someone else speak up? Or was this is a great opportunity to get more involved in the #lovemypharmacy campaign already gathering pace?
I arrived at the surgery and proceeded to explain my concerns. Acute NHS services are bursting at the seams. Our own acute trust has been on black bed status for the third time in 2016. GPs are facing a workload crisis and pharmacists are stepping up to embrace new opportunities. Therefore, it is contradictory to withdraw our funding with little indication of our future. Thomas, a strong supporter of community pharmacy and its value to our local communities, agreed with my concerns and said it was a campaign he was eager to support.
True to his word I received a telephone call from him on 17 February 2016. He told me he would be leading a debate in parliament the following week (23 February 2016) and wanted to visit the local community pharmacy I manage to gather information. I prepared a summary of information on community pharmacy, the services we provide to our patients and how we are developing to reduce pressure on other NHS services, as well as the responses from the main pharmacy bodies on the proposed cuts and their potential implications. When we met he was particularly interested in finding out ways that community pharmacies can save the NHS money. He had also met with a number of other local pharmacists, including the local pharmaceutical committee chief officer.
The debate was deemed a success, with many MPs keen to support community pharmacy and speak up against the proposed cuts. Pharmacy minister Alistair Burt responded by giving reassurance that negotiations are still under way and that the government is committed to maintaining access to pharmacies, although admitted that not all the questions can be answered at this stage.
Thomas has assured me, following the debate, that the consultation process is still under way. Alluding to conversations he had with ministers after the debate, his main piece of advice was that they respond well to positive and constructive ideas.
We have since raised public awareness locally by asking the local press to cover the story and have received tremendous support from customers.
I would encourage all community pharmacy teams to join the campaign, contact their local MP, raise awareness in their own pharmacy and gather information that demonstrates our essential role in the community and as part of the wider NHS.
St Ives, Cornwall