Pharmacy minister David Mowat was unable to rule out the closure of pharmacies on GPs’ doorsteps in a highly pressured question time in Parliament yesterday.
In a 40-minute session he came under intense pressure from cross-party MPs and at times was seen to stumble over accusations that his policy on pharmacy funding was “inchoate”, “indefensible” and “all over the place”.
Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, said the minister had been “sold a hospital pass” by his predecessor in charge of pharmacy policy, Alistair Burt.
He described Mr Mowat’s performance in the House that day as “courageous”.
In the session, which followed an urgent question asked by Labour MP Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), the minister was held to account over his refusal to rule out cuts to pharmacies’ funding. These were described by the MP as “massive” and “arbitrary”. A document widely leaked to the national press states that as many as 1,620 pharmacies in rural areas face closure following the new financial package for pharmacies. This package is not expected to affect the remuneration for the GP dispensing service.
Ministers are expected to unveil a large cut in community pharmacy funding in the next few days, as well as details of the access fund that will support pharmacies deemed essential, including those in rural areas. It is understood that the access scheme will support only 1,380 pharmacies across England’s deprived and rural areas.
Despite intense pressure to reveal the details of the planned closures, the minister said that he was not “in a position to announce [its] final form or shape” but that he could confirm that “no community will be left without a pharmacy”.
Mr Mowat said the intention of the pharmacy funding package was to move the profession from a dispensing model to one based on services. As part of this pharmacies in England would be commissioned to provide a minor ailments service by 2018, he pledged.
But PSNC, which negotiates the NHS funding for pharmacies in England, described the funding offer as “reckless” and “will see patients suffer as services are withdrawn”. It has rejected the offer.
According to PSNC, the proposals:
- reduce funding from December 2016 to March 2017 by 12 per cent on current levels, to set funding for this year at £2.687 billion
- reduce funding for 2017-18 by 7.4 per cent on current levels, to set funding at £2.592bn.
Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, and a former health minister, told the minister that if ever there was an argument to increase the role of pharmacies – “it’s now”.
The minister responded that the NHS had a duty to reduce its spend on pharmacies that were all located in the same area. He told the House: “There won’t be anything like 3,000 closures” and he said the Government fully understood “the situation in rural communities.” He said: “The central part is that everybody has a baseline distance to travel to a pharmacy and everyone can access a pharmacy within a reasonable time”. Although he would not define “reasonable” he said that no one would have an appreciably longer distance to travel to a pharmacy than they do now: “perhaps, tens of metres more, if any”, he said.