MPs have written to pharmacy minister Dame Andrea Leadsom to raise concerns about the pressures facing community pharmacy.

In a letter sent last month, they called for the government to urgently consider creating a new core funding model, and to focus on implementing and developing Pharmacy First, as well as other clinical service areas.

These measures could help support the community pharmacy sector in the face of financial pressures and pharmacy closures, the MPs from across the Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservative parties said.

The letter, coordinated by Community Pharmacy England (CPE), highlighted that core pharmacy funding has reduced by 30% in real terms since 2015, and has been compounded by inflationary pressures, including on workforce and energy costs, as well as medicine supply challenges.

And it cited NHS figures that suggest that since October 2016, around 1,400 pharmacies have permanently closed, with others withdrawing services or reducing operating hours.

‘Evidence suggests that these closures have been occurring in areas with the highest levels of deprivation and need, and that other pharmacies are struggling to fill the gaps,’ the letter added.

The MPs called for Dame Andrea to commit to working with the sector ‘to create a fair and fit for purpose core funding model that ensures sustainability and properly rewards pharmacies for what they do’.

And they asked for the upcoming Pharmacy First service in England, due to launch at the end of this month, to be effectively implemented and developed.

They also said that Dame Andrea should consider building on other clinical service areas such as vaccinations, women’s health and long-term conditions management.

‘Pharmacy can do much more to contribute to key NHS priority areas and to help to deliver greater access for patients to health support,’ the letter concluded.

The letter was sent on 18 December 2023 and was signed by 20 MPs:

  • Judith Cummins MP
  • Virendra Sharma MP
  • Dame Diana Johnson MP
  • Sir George Howarth MP
  • Derek Twigg MP
  • Mohammad Yasin MP
  • Wera Hobhouse MP
  • Helen Morgan MP
  • Sally-Ann Hart MP
  • Peter Aldous MP
  • Dame Priti Patel MP
  • Derek Thomas MP
  • Sir Peter Bottomley MP
  • Greg Smith MP
  • Steve Double MP
  • Dame Andrea Jenkyns MP
  • Robin Walker MP
  • Sir Julian Lewis MP
  • Selaine Saxby MP
  • Lia Nici MP

Labour MP for Bradford South, Judith Cummins, who hosted a winter pressures event in parliament, described community pharmacies as ‘pillars of the community’ and ‘more than just a place to get medicines’.

‘This letter, co-signed by 20 cross-party MPs, calls on the government to urgently address the pressures faced by community pharmacies so that they are properly supported for the work that they do, and so that people across England can continue to access the services that they need and deserve,’ she added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) responded to the letter: ‘Community pharmacies play a vital role in our healthcare system, backed by £2.6 billion a year, with 80% of people living within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy and twice as many pharmacies in deprived areas.

‘As part of our Long-Term Workforce Plan we’re providing thousands more training places for pharmacists, and we have announced £645 million in additional funding to support community pharmacies, through Pharmacy First which will see them supply prescription-only medicines for seven common conditions, provide the contraceptive pill, and give blood pressure checks without the need to see a GP.’

Janet Morrison, CPE chief executive, thanked the MPs for their support ‘and for recognising the monumental challenges faced by community pharmacies'.

In a statement issued today, she highlighted ‘deep concerns’ about the financial impact of the increased National Living Wage for 2024, which CPE estimates could cost the sector an additional £150m-£195m to implement, on top of the 30% real-terms reduction in funding experienced so far.

‘It’s just not sustainable to expect pharmacies to absorb these additional costs. A failure to act to correct some of this will see many more pharmacies closing through 2024,’ Ms Morrison said.

Discussions around the implementation of the £645m investment are continuing between DHSC, sector representatives, and other stakeholders.

Last month, CPE said that the 31 January Pharmacy First launch date for remains on track although contingency plans are being put in place in case it is pushed back.