The sector has made fresh calls on the government to invest in community pharmacy following comments made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and health secretary Steve Barclay at the Conservative Party Conference this week.

The Prime Minister announced a new plan for phasing out smoking and an emphasis on preventative healthcare, while Mr Barclay announced a £30m fund to speed up adoption of new health technology in the NHS and emphasised the need to train more doctors and nurses.

Community pharmacy representatives were also present at the event in Manchester to make the case for investment in the sector.

‘Naïve’ to think pharmacy background ‘automatically translates’ to pro-pharmacy policies

Mr Sunak opened his speech by sharing how his experience helping out in his mother’s community pharmacy while growing up had highlighted to him the importance of community, service and small businesses.

But Gareth Jones, head of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) commented to The Pharmacist: ‘The Prime Minister has spoken fondly before about the history of his family pharmacy, but it would be naïve to imagine that this automatically translates into policies that benefit the sector today.

‘We need to keep making our compelling case to his government and the opposition parties for substantial new investment in community pharmacy.’

And he added that the NPA was at the conference to present a positive vision of the sector to ‘key influencers’ including the health secretary.

‘Ministers would do well to remember that primary care also needs their attention’

Secretary of state for health and social care Steve Barclay also took to the stage this week to speak about the need to train more doctors and nurses and cut hospital waiting lists.

But Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England (CPE), commented to The Pharmacist that ‘ministers would do well to remember that primary care also needs their attention’.

‘Left unchecked, the current crisis in community pharmacy will have a catastrophic impact on patients and the wider NHS,’ she said.

She added that CPE had been highlighting this to the government, as well as ‘just how much investment in pharmacies is needed and would make a positive difference across the health service’.

CPE’s own Conservative Party conference event held this year was attended by ‘three influential Conservative MPs, as well as councillors, charities and patient representatives’, noted Ms Morrison.

‘The support for pharmacy was palpable – everybody round the room was championing the critical work that community pharmacies are doing and backed the recently published vision for the sector. This support has been echoed by ministers speaking at fringe events,’ Ms Morrison added.

She said that ‘urgent work’ would continue at the upcoming Labour Conference and beyond ‘to turn this widespread support into action and financial support.’

Neil Bhayani, public affairs manager at the NPA echoed the need for the government to invest in primary care and in particular community pharmacy.

‘If the health secretary’s language about reform is to be meaningful in our sector, it has to include thinking big about changes that truly engage the whole of primary care including community pharmacy, alongside GPs,’ he told The Pharmacist.

And he said that the party’s emphasis at the conference on making decisions for the long term ‘ought to include investing in community pharmacy now, in order to maintain this precious healthcare network for future generations’.

He also said that away from the main conference hall, he had spoken with Mr Barclay ‘to highlight the NPA’s forward-looking vision we wish to pursue’.

In May, the government announced a £645m investment in community pharmacy in England, to fund a pharmacy-based common conditions service due to start this winter, as well as supporting contraception and hypertension services and IT infrastructure.

And CPE recently said that negotiations on how the funding would be spent were drawing to a close and were expecting to be able to update the sector by the end of November.