The largest ever healthcare petition of over two million signatures was recently delivered to 10 Downing Street.
The petition wasn’t protesting about the closure of an A&E department or anger over junior doctors’ hours. It was instead against the Department of Health’s plans to slash £113 million from the community pharmacy budget. And news came in this morning that this record-breaking petition has fallen on deaf ears – a funding drop of 12 per cent will go ahead in December.
For the past year, the government has been deliberating on how hard the efficiency savings will hit – and it was made clear that pharmacy was expected to play its part in the NHS austerity drive. It was even estimated by a former health minister that up to 3,000 pharmacies could close as a result of this drastic cut.
The announcement by parliamentary under-secretary David Mowat wasn’t entirely unexpected, but that didn’t make it any less painful. Many in the sector feel that the government doesn’t recognise the value pharmacy can add to the health service.
A cold winter for healthcare
The timing of this cuts announcement couldn’t have been worse. The winter months are a time when many people need help from a healthcare professional, meaning GP waiting rooms are bursting at the seams and A&E departments are under even more pressure.
A pharmacy is somewhere you can go for a walk-in flu vaccine, advice on which medicine you should take for your cold and cough, and many provide other services, from sexual health to lung cancer screening. Communities around the country, both urban and rural, rely on their pharmacy.
But when the cuts hit, who will deliver the urgent prescription to the pensioner who can’t leave the house? And who will help the child learn to use their inhaler properly? The public have made it clear that they value their community pharmacies. Why can’t the government do the same?
Annabelle Collins is deputy news editor at Chemist+Druggist magazine.