An Open Letter to Theresa May

22/07/2016 09:57

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the National Pharmacy Association, may I extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to you for every success in your new role.

We recently delivered to your predecessor a petition containing two million signatures from patients and concerned citizens, who wished to register their objections to Department of Health plans to cut local pharmacy services. This is the UK's largest ever healthcare related petition.

I will not repeat in this letter all that has been covered in correspondence with the former PM, Health ministers and Department of Health officials since the DH proposals were first announced in December. I merely draw your attention to the fact that the proposals, if implemented, would have massively damaging and irreversible consequences for patients and communities up and down the country, and would hugely increase pressure on other already-overstretched NHS services. The recent upheaval in British politics must surely provide an opportunity to reconsider these plans, and to ensure that your ministers don't set in motion a chain of events leading to the closure of community pharmacies across England.

Not only is this an unpopular policy, it is also risky in light of the change in economic outlook. Any decision to continue with the current proposals would have a negative economic impact - in terms of job losses and growth, at a time when you are concerned about the resilience of the economy following the referendum.

Thousands of pharmacies are small to medium sized businesses, which will be hit especially hard by the plans. These businesses are likely to put back planned investment in staff, infrastructure and services, and many will also seek to reduce staff costs. Medium term, the DH has suggested that as many as 3000 pharmacies in England could close. Local pharmacies are assumed to be an anchor for economic activity at neighbourhood level, sometimes making the difference between a high street that thrives or fails commercially - so the knock on effect could extend well beyond the pharmacy sector.

In your first speech as Prime Minister you put fighting injustices high on your agenda, promising to make your priorities not for the powerful, but on working for ordinary people, and I consider this to be an example of such. It is obvious that the biggest impact will be felt by small business owners all over the country. Our research also shows that it is the poorest communities that will suffer from the proposed cuts.

No announcement has yet been made about pharmacy funding following the end of the consultation Community Pharmacy in 2016/17 and Beyond. I appeal to you to take this opportunity to make a fresh start. With new ministers in place, the pharmacy sector looks forward to working with the DH and other parts of government in a truly collaborative way, unprejudiced by the events of the last six months.

By working together, we can make the pharmacy sector and the health system overall more efficient, whilst ensuring that no patient loses the reassurance, care and support pharmacies provide. Worthy of further discussion before any decision is taken is the potential for pharmacies to offer far more in terms of routine care and treatments to help relieve the pressure on GPs and A&E departments. As you are no doubt aware, pharmacies are more accessible than GP surgeries, open for longer hours and at weekends, with no appointments required.

Community pharmacy is a part of the health service that bucks the inverse care law - there are more pharmacies per head of population in deprived areas than in more affluent areas. I speak for community pharmacists all over the nation when I implore you to bear this in mind as you pursue your aspiration of making Britain a country that works for everyone.

Yours faithfully,
Ian Strachan