Last month the UK's largest ever healthcare petition was delivered to Downing street, containing 1.8 million signatures. Since then another 200,000 more patients, pharmacists and concerned citizens have added their concerns, asking that the government reconsider their ill-conceived plans to reduce investment in local pharmacies. Two million people have spoken, and all we are asking for is that the government simply listens.
I would like to extend my personal thanks to MPs Michael Dugher, Kevin Barron, Derek Thomas & Norman Lamb who were all on hand to deliver this incredible petition. They, like 2 million others, see that these plans could have a direct impact on patients, putting yet more pressure on already over-burdened GPs and A&E departments all over the country, and are likely to push the NHS to breaking point.
Our research proved that the proposed hub and spoke model of dispensing would actually end up costing the taxpayer money, and our concerns were listened to - so in light of one of the cornerstones of the money-saving proposals being reviewed, the whole set of proposals must be reviewed with it.
There is a claim that a 'Patient Access Scheme' will consider factors such as location and the health needs of the local population before cuts are implemented. The evidence however clearly shows that it is the most deprived areas that will suffer the hardest from the proposed efficiencies.
Now that 2 million people have signed the petition, myself and others have written a letter to the Prime Minister, asking him not to allow the closure of up to 3000 pharmacies to be part of his legacy. Decisions taken in the coming weeks could have irreversible consequences for patients and communities across the country. The current circumstances in Government provide an opportunity for ministers and officials to reconsider these proposals to ensure that they do not set off a chain of events leading to closures of pharmacies in communities all over the country.
Pharmacists, patient groups, local councils, several national newspapers and many others have expressed serious concerns and called for discussions on an alternative path to improved care and greater efficiency. Pharmacies could save the NHS £1.1billion a year by taking the treatment of minor ailments and long-term conditions away from GPs or A&E departments. Pharmacists can (and are prepared to) provide assistance to alleviate pressure on our struggling health service.
Cutting pharmacy services would be, as Michael Dugher MP said, "A reckless leap into the unknown, and patients will pay the price." Pharmacies are a key to unlocking deep-rooted pressures in the health system. We urge ministers and health officials to recognise this, to listen to patients' concerns, and to be aware that whatever the outcome of the forthcoming announcement from the Department of Health, the NPA and many others will continue to fight for community pharmacies and our patients.