The True Value Of Community Pharmacy

While the debate has rolled on in recent months there has been much discussion about the value of pharmacies in isolated rural communities. Undoubtedly pharmacies are vital in such communities, but I would just like to take a moment to consider the value of community pharmacies to urban populations and particularly areas of high deprivation. In community settings where low pay, poor housing, child poverty, substance abuse and unhealthy lifestyles combine to affect the life chances and life expectancy of too many, the community pharmacy with its trusted, well qualified community pharmacist really is a godsend. Such pharmacies are the true gateway to the NHS and perform a vitally important role. Community pharmacists are the most accessible health professionals by virtue of long opening hours and ‘a no appointment necessary’ approach. In these times when 1 in 4 have to wait a week or more to see a GP, or can’t get an appointment at all, local pharmacies are often the sole provider of continuity of care and the pharmacist is too often the only familiar face in an overstretched primary care team. Most community pharmacies offer a free prescription collection and delivery service that ensures that housebound patients and busy working people get the medication that they need in a timely fashion. In addition for those who wish to self medicate, thereby saving the NHS money, community pharmacies provide conveniently located, free professional advice on full a range of OTC (over the counter) and POM ( pharmacy only medicines) and as such are often the first port of call for such patients.

The Department of Health has made no secret of its efforts to reduce demand on the NHS and it is a fact that no health professional is better placed than the community pharmacist to promote healthy living and therefore the prevention of illness. Community pharmacists dispense thousands of prescriptions each month and every one presents the opportunity for a productive health intervention. In addition these pharmacies play a key role in reducing the number of hospital admissions and the support they provide for the elderly following discharge from hospital is crucial to minimise the risk of re-admission. The government should be trumpeting the advent of Healthy Living Pharmacies and working with the sector to further extend their role thereby supporting patients, reducing costs and easing pressure on other parts of the NHS.

If community pharmacies close, and it was a Government minister who admitted these cuts could lead to up to 3,000 closing, where will all their patients go? They and their problems won’t just disappear. Some will pack out their GP surgery and others will head straight to AE.
The NHS is already in the throes of a staffing and funding crisis and forcing community pharmacies to cut back services and close down is short sighted in the extreme, and could have catastrophic in the long term.

Labour knows the value of local pharmacies and so do all the communities across the country who rely on them. That’s why we’ve called this vote next week and I urge all responsible, discerning Tory MPs, whose constituents will be hit hard by these cuts, to vote with us.

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