Covid-19: Community Pharmacies

Graham Brady Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
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I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings for debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive at the start of debates in Westminster Hall. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. Members attending physically who are in the later stages of the call list should use the seats in the Public Gallery and move on to the horseshoe when seats become available. Members may speak only from the horseshoe, because that is where the microphones are.

Once we move on to Back-Bench contributions, I intend to begin with a time limit of three and a half minutes. Hopefully we will not need to make it shorter during the course of the debate.

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On resuming—
Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
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The sitting is resumed. The debate may now continue until quarter past 3.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con) [V]
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for securing this important debate.

The pandemic has shone a light on some of the more extreme challenges that we face as a society, but it has also highlighted the role of some of the institutions that support our communities—quietly, day in and day out. They are there for advice and support and offer a friendly and welcome face to those who are not reassured by going through online channels. Some people want a relationship but do not want to trouble their GP, and community pharmacies fill that role. These institutions have long been at the heart of all our constituencies, offering so much more than just prescriptions.

It would be remiss of me not to mention a few of the local pharmacies in my community and the incredible work that they have done and continue to do as part of the NHS family. Cohens, Coward’s and Murray’s, among others, are Furness institutions that have been remarkable in the support they have offered the community over the past year. Not only have pharmacies remained open over the past year; they are now supporting the vaccination programme.

A local pharmacist, Ben Merriman, was out vaccinating in Millom yesterday. I was told this morning of one pharmacist who was doing the same and, at the end of a very long day, found that their final patient was needle-phobic. It took an hour of gentle persuasion to get that final needle into the patient’s arm, which shows in one simple act the generosity and forbearance of the community pharmacist. This is a sector that we need to nurture and support, especially now.

Let us be honest: community pharmacies are struggling. While they have never been busier—significantly busy at the moment—90% of their business is pharmacy work and not retail, and that part of their business has dropped off. They have also seen a significant increase in their workload as the number of consultations they have taken on has increased since the start of the pandemic. Some of that is due to the approachability of community pharmacies, and some of it is due to word of mouth. If someone has had a good service, they are more than likely to tell their friends and family.

The Government’s support for this arm of the NHS is welcome, and the £370 million helped to deal with some of the immediate cash-flow issues at the start of the pandemic. I am sure my hon. Friend will continue to engage with the PSNC to ensure that this vital arm of the NHS has the support that it needs to stay afloat. Ultimately, if pharmacies close—that is what is happening now and it will continue at a faster rate if it is allowed to progress—the patients of Furness and those in constituencies around the country, along with the rest of the NHS, will suffer.

No one could have predicted the pandemic and the massive impact that it would have on the NHS, the Exchequer and the country as a whole, but pharmacies were already under massive financial strain before this. I have already lost one pharmacy in Barrow and several others have cut their hours because of financial cutbacks. It is worth looking at where the bulk of pharmacy closures have taken place in the past four years. The vast majority sit in the most deprived areas of our country, where we need to level up healthcare the most. Squaring that circle is the challenge that my hon. Friends in the Treasury face—one that they are no doubt alive to.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock said when she opened the debate, community pharmacies are the front door to the NHS. We need to make sure that that door stays firmly open.

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David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con) [V]
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) on securing this debate and on being determined that it would not be a hot air debate but one in which we actually work together to find some solutions.

Although many GPs’ surgeries closed their doors at the start of the pandemic, pharmacies have stayed open and even increased their hours of operation in order to meet the extra demand for their services. They have been a lifeline for the elderly and vulnerable, delivering medicines to those shielding or self-isolating. Many pharmacies in Southend have also supported care homes, sourcing medication where there were shortages of end-of-life medicines. When needed, they have also assisted with the reuse of medicines in care homes under national protocols.

Working with local general practitioners, chemists are now processing the majority of prescriptions electronically, reducing the number of face-to-face visits that are required. The discharge medicines service has just rolled out to Southend pharmacies, so that they are able to see all the medicines that a patient has been given upon being discharged from hospital, which improves safety and reduces potential errors. Many pharmacies have also joined the vaccination programme. Their experience in handling large numbers of patients effectively has been vital in delivering the first jab to the elderly and clinically vulnerable.

Having visited a number of pharmacies in my constituency before the coronavirus outbreak, I am aware of the pride that they feel in serving their community and of their ambitions for the future. Frenchs Chemist in Leigh-on-Sea suggested running a phlebotomy clinic three days a week and installing a treatment room with ultrasound scanning facilities, so that many routine scans can be carried out without the need for a hospital visit. Derix Healthcare Pharmacy, also in Leigh-on-Sea, is keen to take on more work, such as producing blister packs on behalf of the hospital, which is a very time-consuming task, and has offered to perform medicine use reviews and other services currently carried out in hospitals, freeing up staff time on wards and in out-patient departments.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on liver health, I have worked closely with our brilliant secretariat, the Hepatitis C Trust, to promote the delivery of testing and treatment for hepatitis C in community settings. A report published by the APPG in 2018 showed that, in order to eliminate the disease, levels of testing and diagnosis needs to be much higher. Offering testing and treatment in community pharmacies presents an important opportunity to access at-risk groups who are already attending for other services. Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer, and in order to eliminate it as a public health concern by 2030, those who cannot be reached by traditional healthcare settings must be offered more help locally.

Of course, all this comes at a price, and many pharmacies are struggling to continue the level of service they currently offer. Coping with the pressure of additional demand during the covid-19 crisis has meant many extra costs in staffing and PPE and an increased cost of medicines. The advance payments made during the pandemic, which allowed them to cope with additional demand on their services, were welcome but will have to be paid back—a total of £370 million—putting pressure on pharmacies to cut services and opening hours. This is a real opportunity for our wonderful pharmacies to deliver even more services than they have been given the power to do at the moment.

Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
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I thank everybody for keeping to time so well, making sure that we have sufficient time left for each of the Front-Bench spokespeople to have up to 10 minutes to wind up, and for the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) to have at least a couple of minutes at the end to sum up.

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Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
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In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, we will suspend until half-past 3.