A Labour government would halt plans to close pharmacies across England, according to the party’s general election manifesto published today.
The manifesto, largely in line with what was said in a draft version that was leaked on 11 May 2017, states: “[We] will halt pharmacy closures and review provision to ensure all patients have access to pharmacy services, particularly in deprived or remote communities.”
It follows government moves in October last year to cut the pharmacy budget by £170m, threatening the closure of thousands of pharmacies across England. This policy is currently being challenged in a judicial review by pharmacy bodies, including the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents pharmacy contractors.
A spokesperson for the National Pharmacy Association, said, in response to the manifesto pledge: ”We are naturally delighted that the Labour Party is committed to halting pharmacy cuts. There is a better way to achieve efficiencies than by applying funding cuts – one which builds on the strengths of the community pharmacy network rather than dismantles it.
“With consistent support from policy makers, pharmacies can do much more to take pressure off GPs and hospitals, make access to NHS care more convenient and help people with long term conditions.”
The spokesperson also welcomed a commitment in the manifesto to review access to pharmacy services in deprived areas, saying: ”The community pharmacy network is a part of the health service that can truly be said to serve all communities, including the most vulnerable neighbourhoods. It is vital to preserve access to pharmaceutical care for those in most need. Cuts to local pharmacies will have a disproportionate effect on people who live in the most deprived areas of England, where there is already a lack of NHS healthcare provision.”
The Labour Party is also looking to halt sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), controversial strategies that cover 44 areas in England and which aim to cut costs and integrate health and care services.
“The next Labour government will reverse privatisation of our NHS and return our health service into expert public control. Labour will repeal the Health & Social Care Act that puts profits before patients,” the manifesto says.
Also included is a commitment to reinstate the powers of the health secretary over the NHS.
The Party has produced an additional document which details how it will raise £48.6bn to cover its manifesto pledges.
Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, welcomed the commitment to extra funding for the NHS and social care, but warned the proposal to halt STPs risks holding back essential changes to services.
“Labour is right that there has so far not been nearly enough engagement with the public and patients and this needs to happen, but where the case for change has been made politicians should not stand in the way,” he said. “In the long-term, spending on health and social care will need to increase as a share of GDP to meet rising demand for services and bring us into line with spending in other countries such as France and Germany.”
In terms of EU collaborative research and links with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which evaluates medicinal products for use in Europe, the manifesto says: “A Labour government will ensure the UK maintains our leading research role by seeking to stay part of Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes and by welcoming research staff to the to the UK.”
Labour would also like to maintain membership of certain European organisations, including the EMA.
“As Britain negotiates its departure from the EU, the UK must convince the rest of the world that Britain is open for business. As such, the pharmaceutical industry is concerned that Labour’s headline pledges on taxation – such as increasing corporation tax – may have unintended consequences that could undermine the UK’s global competitiveness,” said a spokesperson for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.