A campaign group on behalf of pharmacies has suggested that thousands of small outlets are at risk of closure due to cuts instigated by the Department of Health.
Pharmacy Voice, which represents High Street chemists, also asserts that community pharmacies play a vital role in reducing bottlenecking in the NHS.
Without community pharmacies, it is believed by Pharmacy Voice that 25% of people would ultimately visit the local GP instead, creating further pressure on NHS services.
But the government has defended its scheme, indicating that pharmacies in some regions of the country are too closely located.
The government believes that its existing plans will ultimately enable more people to access a community pharmacy, rather than causing them to seek out a local GP.
The Department of Health in England states that the average community pharmacy receives about £220,000 in NHS funding each year.
It also knows that many chemists are located in close proximity to one another, with 40% in the country located in clusters of three or more within a 10-minute walk of each other.
In response to this issue, the government has suggested that the amount of funding pharmacies receive should be reduced significantly, ultimately reducing the bill for paying pharmacies by around £170 million.
As a partial justification of this policy, the government points to the fact that the number of pharmacies has grown by 20% in the last 12 years.
However, Pharmacy Voice is adamant that the government’s plans are misguided, and another example of penny-pinching which will impact negatively on local communities.
Prof Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, believes that pharmacies also offer medical advice which would effectively be removed from the community should the government plans go ahead.
“People are increasingly aware of the role a local pharmacy plays in not just dispensing their medicines, but in dispensing vital health services. Advising and helping people to treat minor ailments is a starting point, but increasingly, pharmacy is playing a key role in helping people lead healthier lives through interventions like smoking cessation and weight management programmes. These are important stepping stones to increasing life expectancy in some of our most disadvantaged communities.”
This position was supported by Dr Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer in England, his view being that pharmacies represent a critical part of local communities throughout the United Kingdom.
“That’s why we are consulting on changes that will better integrate pharmacy into the NHS. We are looking at ways to make greater use of the skills of pharmacists in GP surgeries, A&E, care homes and other settings, and make better use of technology These proposals will ensure we have a modern, efficient pharmacy sector which gives patients the support of pharmacy services when and where they need it.”