Fears for future of rural pharmacies

Huw Merriman in the Commons SUS-151006-132049001
Huw Merriman in the Commons SUS-151006-132049001

Rural communities could lose their local pharmacies if the government proceeds with proposals to save £163m in the NHS pharmacy budget.

Huw Merriman, MP for Pevensey and Herstmonceux, issued the warning in parliament last week after pharmacists voiced their concerns to him.

They said potential cuts in dispensing and annual fees, as well as increased costs from measures such as the national living wage, could threaten the future of their businesses.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Merriman said: “I wanted to ensure the views of local pharmacists, and my constituents who use them, were given a voice to their fears of closure.

“I understand the need to look at savings but I asked the government minister to consider if these could be better targeted on those pharmacies which are in clusters rather than in rural areas where the next pharmacy could be many miles away. The minister assured me that he would consider my proposals before a final decision is taken.”

Mr Merriman said, while he accepted the need for savings, these could be better delivered by looking at other areas, such as the amount wasted on drugs thrown away due to over-prescribing.

Penny Woodgate, business support manager for the East Sussex Local Pharmaceutical Committee, stressed it was a ‘blanket cut’ which could affect both town and rural community pharmacies.

“Community pharmacies are a valuable and valued resource,” she said. “As well as dispensing medicines, community pharmacy teams help people stay well and out of the GPs surgery, to get the most benefit from medicines, and manage health conditions.”

The government has indicated it will target pharmacies less than a ten-minute walk from each other. However, this could still put a quarter of pharmacies at risk.

“The implications for patient care have not been properly considered and may be damaging,” said Ms Woodgate.

During the Parliament debate, one pharmacist was quoted as saying he would have to cut staff, cut apprenticeships, reduce opening hours and stop free services such as delivery to housebound patients, if the proposed budget cuts went ahead.

Mr Merriman said pharmacies can also act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the welfare of certain vulnerable constituents and as a stable part of villages and town centres, provides the footfall that allows pubs, restaurants and shops to survive in an increasingly difficult environment.

The consultation period for the proposals ends on March 24 with a decision to be made in April and, if approved, implemented in October.

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