Former pharmacy minister Steve Brine has no concerns around the implementation of the upcoming pharmacy common conditions service, despite pressures on the sector, he has told The Pharmacist at today’s Pharmacy Show.

And in a keynote address to delegates, the Health and Social Care Committee chair promised to put pressure on ministers regarding the medicines shortages and workforce issues facing the sector.

He also said that he shared one audience member’s concerns about pharmacy closures and the consolidation of the sector resulting from funding squeezes.

Pharmacy First

Speaking exclusively to The Pharmacist about the long-awaited common conditions service – also being referred to as Pharmacy First – Mr Brine said that despite pressures on the sector: ‘I don’t have concerns about Pharmacy First because ultimately the economics of Pharmacy First speak for themselves and will show themselves more and more as we go forwards.’

He added that local health systems and integrated care boards (ICBs) ‘will come to realise that’, and that they would ‘have to embrace’ the service and ‘make it work’.

The Conservative MP, who created the first trial of Pharmacy First in the North East of England during his tenure as pharmacy minister in 2017, said the scheme had shown ‘very very early promise’.

‘I love Pharmacy First […] I want to see it realise its potential and I think it will,’ said Mr Brine, adding that it would showcase and help people realise the clinical skills of pharmacists in primary care.

He said that it could lay the groundwork for ‘more and more’ clinical services being delivered by community pharmacists.

Earlier this year, NHS England (NHSE) announced that a nationally funded Pharmacy First service would be launched in England before the end of 2023, subject to consultation.

And last month, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison said the patient group directions (PGDs) that will enable community pharmacists in England to provide a common conditions service were being worked through.

Holding the government to account

Speaking to Pharmacy Show delegates in a keynote address at the conference, Mr Brine said that workforce issues and medicines shortages were getting ‘in the way of thinking about the future’.

‘We’ll be turning up the heat on ministers on those issues,’ he told delegates.

And he said that the sector had ‘huge untapped potential’, describing pharmacists as ‘highly trained primary care professionals’.

Mr Brine added that he was looking forward to seeing where the Health and Social Care Committee’s ongoing pharmacy inquiry and work on the sector ‘takes us’.

‘I hope it will inform this parliament. I hope it will inform this government and also, I hope it will inform the next parliament and the next government,’ he said.

‘Those of us who care about this sector will carry on making the argument,’ he added, calling on pharmacists to engage with the inquiry sessions, which will be broadcast on Parliament TV, over the week ahead.

An expert panel commissioned by the Health and Social Care Committee recently found that the government's progress on its commitments to support community pharmacy ‘require improvement’,  with legislative changes around skills mix being rated 'inadequate'.

One pharmacy contractor in the audience highlighted the cost savings generated by the community pharmacy sector in procuring medicines for the NHS, alongside real-term cuts to the sector’s funding.

He asked Mr Brine whether he was worried ‘that squeezing and squeezing the community pharmacy sector is going to kill off the goose that is giving you the £10 billion golden egg’.

‘Yes, I do massively share that concern,’ Mr Brine said in response, adding that consolidation of the sector only resulted in less primary care access for the public.

‘I genuinely, passionately do believe that the NHS in England is in big trouble, unless it stems demand over supply,’ he said, referencing pharmacy closures.

He suggested that young people were ‘opting out’ of the NHS, adding: ‘If we don't stem that tide, and make the NHS more accessible, understand that demand outstripping supply, then it's in big, big trouble.’

And he noted that community pharmacy could be a vital part of the prevention agenda, which was outlined as a priority for both the current government and the Labour Party at recent party conferences.

‘An area of huge potential for pharmacy is the prevention agenda,’ said Mr Brine, who told delegated he was ‘very pleased’ to hear Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting talking about prevention at the Labour Party Conference last week.

‘I may be a Conservative MP, but I want this agenda to continue to whatever happens with the election next year,’ he said.

While he recognised that community pharmacies made their money from dispensing, he suggested that ‘it doesn’t have to be that way’ if government ‘put their money where their mouth is on preventative health care and on primary care services’.