I know from the emails that I have received on this issue that many people, pharmacists and patients alike,are concerned by the Government's plans to cut pharmacy funding by £170 million. I also appreciate the concerns have been raised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Voice and the National Pharmacy Association about the impact of the Government's cuts on the quality, safety and access to care for patients. I share these concerns and am pleased that my colleagues in the Shadow Health Team have spoken out against these cuts and are calling for a more integrated approach to primary care funding.
Pharmacies play a crucial role in our community. They have a significant impact on patient care and provide an essential service in dispensing both medication and the essential information and advice that can prevent people from having to visit their GP for common health problems. The Government say that pharmacies should take on more responsibility, in order to relieve pressure from other services. However, at the same time the Government is cutting funding for pharmacies. It is concerning that a recent YouGov survey has found that more than one in four people who would normally seek advice from their community pharmacy would visit their GP instead if the pharmacy was closed, thereby piling additional pressure onto already overstretched GP services.
The Government's plans are therefore contradictory and introducing cuts on this scale to community pharmacy services will not improve primary care outcomes. I am concerned that pharmacies will find it harder to provide the safe, good-quality services we all want to see. Indeed, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has warned that the proposed cuts will have a substantial impact on pharmacy business owners, their employees, and locums.
I know that many pharmacists and patients are concerned by the Government's plans. This was demonstrated by a petition presented to 10 Downing Street on 24 May 2016 and signed by more than 1.7 million people in support of local pharmacies. A further petition to Parliament, which calls on the Government to stop its cuts to pharmacy funding, has been signed by over 63,000 people. If this petition receives 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for a debate in Parliament.
The Government has consulted with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and other stakeholders on its proposals, and the public phase of the consultation ended on 24 May 2016. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the concerns that have been raised by organisations such as RPS, Pharmacy Voice and the National Pharmacy Association and also the large number of people who have signed petitions against the Government's proposals, before announcing its final decisions. The Government expects to publish its final decisions in July 2016 and I will follow this closely.
The NHS is under enormous pressure and I am very concerned that the only way the Government will achieve its planned £22 billion worth of efficiency savings in the NHS will be by cutting staff, cutting pay and closing essential services such as community pharmacies. I believe that a different, co-ordinated approach to planning and investment is needed across primary care to ensure that patients get the most out of the NHS and pharmacies.