Community pharmacies: a vital part of our local healthcare system under threat, Daisy Benson & Yeovil Liberal Democrats respond

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The Department of Health imposed a £320m funding cut over 2 years on community pharmacies from 1 Dec 2016, which could lead to 1 in 4 pharmacies closing according to Alistair Burt MP, the former Minister of State[1].

South Somerset has 30 pharmacies, 29 of which provide care for extended hours, for example when GP surgeries are closed. Community pharmacies provide a range of health services, beyond the supply of medicines, and can help people to live independently in their own homes, stay well and avoid the need for a GP appointment.

This is critical, as GP practices and A&E struggle with increasing demand from the ageing and ailing population of South Somerset, and one third of family doctors in our area reach retirement age in the next 3 years[2]. Patients will have to wait longer to see their GP, which could put even more pressure on A&E Departments.

Research for the National Pharmacy Association shows as a result of these cuts:

  • 86% of pharmacies are likely to have to limit free services such as home delivery of medicines to housebound patients.
  • 81% of pharmacies are likely to have to restrict services which help people live independently in the community.
  • 76% of pharmacies could be forced to reduce their opening hours.

Visiting South Petherton Pharmacy, Daisy Benson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Yeovil spoke to pharmacist & owner, Max Punni

“People in our area, including a high number of elderly and vulnerable residents depend on community pharmacies  - losing 1 in 4 would be crazy, especially at a time when our hospitals and GPs are overloaded.

“During my visit to South Petherton pharmacy I heard directly from Max about the lengths that he and his team go to for their patients. They are papering over the cracks of a system which is under tremendous strain because of a lack of national funding for our NHS and local difficulties in recruiting trained healthcare professionals.

‘We should be supporting our pharmacists to offer more services in our community - not fewer and I am backing South Somerset District Council in calling on the Conservative Government to stop the cuts to this vital local service.”

Mr Punni’s group operates 11 community pharmacies in the South West, including Options Pharmacy, Merriott Pharmacy & South Petherton Pharmacy in the Yeovil constituency . Mr Punni said:

“These cuts are going to have a real impact on patients and the communities we serve. We need bigger premises, but I can’t make the investment to improve services for patients while at the same time having the rug pulled from under our feet by Government.”

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At its meeting on 10th January South Somerset District Council passed a motion tabled by Liberal Democrat Councillor Graham Oakes, supporting our community pharmacies[3]:

RESOLVED:

That Council agreed to:

1. Request that the Chief Executive and Leader of Council write to the Secretary of State for Health, calling for the Government to abandon these cuts, rather than just simply to postpone them, and to make a commitment to maintain a fully-funded community pharmacy service.

2. Request that the Chief Executive and Leader of Council also write to the MPs for Yeovil and Somerton & Frome, along with the Chair of the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group asking them to make similar representations on this matter to the Secretary of State for Health.

Ian Strachan, Chairman of the National Pharmacy Association said “I would like to commend South Somerset District Council for taking the time to consider the importance of community pharmacies to local communities. A growing number of councils are speaking out against the madness of the Government’s programme for pharmacy. The NHS is in a mess, but pharmacy could provide real solutions to this crisis today, but it needs NHS leaders to admit their mistakes and invest in -not cut - a service which is vital to our community.”