Is the Treasury planning to kill off local pharmacies?
It has emerged in the High Court that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote to Theresa May in August last year to suggest that local pharmacies should be closed to give way to a system of warehouse dispensing.
The revelation, contained in hitherto unseen correspondence, was made public during the High Court hearing of the NPA and PSNC’s challenge to the cuts earlier this week (22 March).
In a letter dated 11 August 2016, Philip Hammond wrote: “I would like the community pharmacy market to follow trends we have witnessed in other retail markets. This might include a shift away from the traditional bricks-and-mortar business model towards scaled up, innovative supply solutions employing digital technology, where government expenditure is minimised.”
Other briefings presented in evidence to the court by senior Department of Health officials discussed the possibility of up to 3,000 pharmacies closing.
In response, NPA Chairman Ian Strachan said: “This is a smoking gun. We have been warning for months that there are elements within government that want to see the end of the community pharmacy network that has served so many patients so well for so long. Now the proof is there for all to see. The Treasury is clearly motivated by the notion that centralised medicines supply is cheaper. It is not in the slightest bit interested in the quality of patient care.
“From where I am standing – on the NHS front line – it looks like the funding cuts imposed on us this year are the first salvo in an effort to wipe local pharmacies off the map. But the NPA and the millions of people who have supported our campaign to save local pharmacies will not let that happen.”
Mr Strachan added that Philip Hammond’s letter contained “financial miscalculations” and was misleading. “Above all,” he said, “it is remarkable for its total lack of appreciation that pharmacies do more than simply supply medicines. For many people, they are a local lifeline.”
The documents appear to contradict assurances given by Ministers in parliament that no community would be left without a pharmacy and that people would only need to walk “tens of metres” further to access pharmaceutical services.
Last year, the NPA presented a petition containing two million signatures, in support of local pharmacies – the largest healthcare-related petition in British history.