Last week it was announced with much trumpeting that GPs surgeries would receive a £2.4billion pound "funding boost" from the government, and that this plan would improve access for patients. This is, on the face of it, a great idea - but in the detail there's a worrying and unacceptable trade off.
The government plans to put 1500 pharmacists in GPs surgeries and at the same time implement funding changes that mean that up to 3000 pharmacies around the country may have to close.
This is insanity; the NHS equivalent of you going into the supermarket and falling for a deal that says "Buy one: Get just half of it!"
Unfortunately, the government is giving with one hand while taking away more with the other. We are all accustomed to spin but never before have we seen such a correlation between good news (often trumpeted) and bad news (often buried). Before the election it was "we're giving the NHS the £8billion it needs" but first, wait, £22billion of efficiency savings must be made. There's a lot of debate about whether this is even possible and indeed what the real figure required for the NHS's continued operation might be.
Recent research by the Health Foundation was damning indeed - it showed that the NHS in every area of the country was now struggling with finances and that all regions in the UK had gone from a surplus to a deficit in just three years. This is what they had to say about their findings:
"The financial challenges facing our hospitals are not the result of weaknesses in the management of individual organisations. They stem from ... an unrealistic expectation of efficiency improvement in the NHS."
So when the announcement was made about a "funding boost" you must forgive my cynicism in asking, "What's paying for that?"
The answer is, of course, efficiency savings; cuts to junior doctors' salaries, to nurses' student finances, to mental health, to secondary and tertiary care - and of course the potential closure of up to 3,000 pharmacies.
So let me repeat; the idea that closing up to 3,000 pharmacies will "improve patient access" is a fantasy so enormous that even Tolkien would be jealous of it.
Right across the country there is already a highly qualified workforce in local pharmacies. There is a well-established infrastructure for delivering care in those settings. Community pharmacies are a ready-made solution on the health service front line and are trusted by patients because they've been at the heart of their communities for years.
Pharmacies help vulnerable people to live independently in their own homes for longer; they are also generally more accessible and convenient for patients than doctor surgeries.
Take minor ailments alone; Treating problems like coughs & sore throats costs the NHS an extra £1.1billion a year because patients are being treated at A&E or by their GP. Take long-term conditions, like asthma and diabetes; transferring the routine care of both of these issues to pharmacies would free up GPs to deliver more complex care.
If the government wants to improve patient access it should invest in this; in allowing community pharmacies to help, instead of closing 'potentially' a quarter of them. Instead of being forced to go to your GP you can walk in to the pharmacist with no appointment and be seen, in most cases, immediately.
So please, sign the petition to make MPs debate this because it may well be your own local pharmacy that's under threat.
"Buy one, get just half of it" - do you think that's a good deal?
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