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Hoping for a new broom for pharmacy policy

The reality is that life has changed after the vote on Brexit

Chair of Pharmacy Voice Claire Ward sends a positive message to the new pharmacy minister

Most MPs have probably been counting down the hours, let alone the days, until the parliamentary recess. After local elections, a referendum campaign, a new prime minister and government, together with the endless resignations and upheaval in the Labour Party, all of which will have required early mornings, late nights and often seven-day working, a well-earned rest is now needed.

But I also know from my own experience that there will be few if any that will spend six weeks sitting on the beach or in the back garden. Many, especially those with new ministerial responsibilities, will take the time to read and reflect on their new portfolios.

A climate of uncertainty

For contractors, especially independents, the work goes on in a climate of uncertainty about the future. The new prime minister says she is leading a government “for everyone”; pharmacy owners will be wondering whether this generosity of spirit extends to them.

The promised government response to the consultation on pharmacy funding did not appear in July as expected. We now have a new minister, David Mowat, who has no track record in health policy, nor any obvious signs of engagement in recent months in the pharmacy campaign.

We all hope this means he will arrive in his new role with an open mind and be willing to listen to the representations Pharmacy Voice and others have been making over the past few months. Watch this space!

Collision course?

Parliament returns in September for two weeks before going into recess again for the party conference season. In that time, the new minister should have had time to get  to grips with his new portfolio and consider whether he wants to start his new ministerial career on a collision course with pharmacy.

There is an alternative.

We have never said that pharmacy should stay as it is, untouched by reform or the pressures facing other parts of the public service. On the contrary, we have argued that this is an opportunity for the sector to work more closely with the government and NHS England to deliver a more effective and efficient community pharmacy network, building on the resource we already have, but focusing it on better patient outcomes.

We have argued that there are huge skills in community pharmacy that are being under used and could take some significant share of the pressures being faced by GPs and A&E departments. We have argued that giving more responsibility to community pharmacy to help manage patients with long-term conditions would not only be better for the health of patients, but would also be a more cost-effective way of supporting them.

Framing the debate

Yet the debate to date has been framed with the starting point that the 6 per cent cut in the Global Sum amounting to £170 million was non-negotiable. So it became about the “how”, rather than the how much.

The reality is that life has changed after the vote on Brexit. With huge uncertainty, probably for at least the next three years, we face economic risks that were not expected before June 23.

In this instability, it would be extremely foolish for the government to press ahead with financial changes based on one set of assumptions – that the work pharmacy does could be done for 6 per cent less. That could result in huge damage to pharmacy businesses, result in a significant number of job losses, and yet not contribute to the real agenda of the National Health Service’s Forward View.

Former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne’s austerity measures were designed to deliver a budget surplus by 2020. If Theresa May’s government is going to ease the leash a little in recognition that we face a stormy and uncertain time ahead, then community pharmacy should benefit from that change in policy too, and allow us to act on what we all recognise to be
the case: that this is the time to decide on what solutions we can offer to meet that challenging NHS agenda.

The Pharmacy Voice vision

So, at Pharmacy Voice, we will be spending the coming weeks focusing on how we can help the government and NHS England chart a different course for community pharmacy. We have to set out our own vision for the sector, and are clear about what we will need, from the NHS, contractors and the profession, to deliver better services and outcomes for patients.

We look forward to an early meeting with the new pharmacy minister, and we will be encouraging him to spend at least part of the summer visiting local pharmacies and talking to patients so he too can understand the value of the asset he has sitting on his local high street.

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