26/04/2016 10:37 BST | Updated 27/04/2017 06:12 BST

Pharmacy Could Be the Key to Saving Our Health Service

Winston Churchill famously said "Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential."

You may not yet be aware of it, but since just before Christmas a continuous effort has been under way by the nation's independent pharmacists. In what some have described as an assault on our NHS, the government has proposed cuts of £170 million pounds to pharmacies up and down the country.

"So what?" you may ask - every single government department has had to take some pain during austerity, we are after all, "All in this together" - but this series of cuts, currently in consultation by the government, goes far deeper than the price-tag might suggest.

Let me state the facts: Pharmacies save lives, and take some of the pressure off an already overburdened health service which will crumble under its own weight without more support. Pharmacy, if allowed to, could work to take yet more pressure off the NHS. Research conducted by the National Pharmacy Association showed that 2 in 3 people use a pharmacy at least once per month and that 36% of the adult population has received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months.

Imagine the impact that a proposed quarter of all pharmacies closing would have on the NHS. Imagine how many more people would have to go to their GP for a minor ailment or repeat prescription, not to mention the many lives that have been quite literally saved by a pharmacist. Our research shows that 41% of people would go to a GP if it became more difficult to see a pharmacist - and research done by the British Medical Association shows that the number of GP consultations has gone up by 70 million in the last five years. The same study shows that 1 in 3 GPs plan to retire in the next five years, with a massive 68% of them saying that their workload is unmanageable.

Our research also shows that 28% of people would go to an NHS walk-in centre, call 111 or 999 or visit A&E - over a million people would have to go to A&E or other urgent care.

It's clear to see that an enormous crisis is brewing here, and if nothing is done we will eventually start to see queues outside our A&E departments as access to care becomes harder and harder.

In certain areas of the country it may become impossible to see a healthcare professional without a very, very long wait.

Before the election, the government promised to increase NHS funding by £8bn in the next five years - however this was always the very bare minimum that the health service needed to keep afloat. By taking money out of pharmacy, the government risks breaking the health service.

Pharmacists can actually help save money on all sorts of care, not to mention on medicines.

This is why pharmacists have been engaged in a continuous effort since Christmas. Like all healthcare professionals, we care deeply about our patients, and our continued ability to serve and help them - and now we need your help.

In every UK pharmacy is a physical petition which we plan to deliver direct to Downing street to show them the real support for community pharmacy. There's also an online petition which you can find here. Once we have 100,000 signatures we will be able to make our MPs in Parliament debate the issue - meaning that David Cameron will be able to hear some genuine facts about the vital role of pharmacy in every community, rather than the ill-informed response he gave at PMQs on Wednesday. If the government wishes to reduce spending on medicines then they must work with pharmacy, rather than gouging a hole out of it.

This government seems to have ignored the real victims to their proposals: the elderly, the vulnerable, the immobile and those without access to transport. The housebound; those who pharmacy has helped to remain living independently in their own homes for longer. The frail, and those who have little resource or influence to fight back.

At risk is a part of the health system that could hold the key to solving many of its problems. Patients would be the biggest losers, including some of the most vulnerable people in society. If you wish to continue to have a health service in future years, please sign our petitions both here and in your local pharmacy, and together we can ask our elected officials to reconsider these ill-informed proposals.