Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has promised that Labour will make use of community pharmacy’s ‘untapped potential’ if it wins the next general election, pledging to increase the sector’s involvement in the management of long-term conditions and tackling overprescribing.

Speaking via video link at the Sigma Conference, Mr Streeting said Labour would also put pharmacists at the forefront of clinical life science trials in the community, allowing them to ‘play a big part in developing new medicines and treatments of the future’.

Mr Streeting told the conference that the role of pharmacists has been ‘undervalued for too long’.

He said: ‘We've seen more than 1,000 pharmacies permanently close in the past decade, disproportionately affecting those communities that need them most, and I know many others have been forced to reduce opening hours, services and staff.

‘This is the completely opposite direction that we need pharmacy to be heading in.’

Mr Streeting reiterated his ambition to see community pharmacies play a greater role in healthcare, insisting that the sector is ‘critical to [Labour’s] mission to make the NHS fit for the future’.

He said: ‘Pharmacists should be put to use to help manage long term conditions like hypertension and COPD, and we'll put them to work in tackling the serious issue of over prescribing, responsible for thousands of avoidable hospital admissions each year.

‘Your staff have years of training, huge expertise and experience. It's about time you made proper use of them,’ he added.

Mr Streeting also hinted that NHS spending priorities would shift under a Labour government.

‘When you compare where money is spent in the NHS with health services across the world, we’re top of the charts when it comes to spending in hospitals, but we're right at the bottom when it comes to primary care,’ he said.

‘I’m determined to change that so the NHS catches illness earlier and treats it faster. We need the NHS to become a neighbourhood health service, as much as it's a national health service, with more care in our community, closer to people's homes,’ he added.