Government reviews into workforce, clinical services and other primary care areas are not moving fast enough, MP Peter Dowd, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pharmacy has told The Pharmacist.

He also said that the NHS workforce plan would be ‘barmy’ not to include community pharmacy, and that local areas do not currently have enough autonomy to meet the healthcare needs of their local communities.

In the most recent Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) agreement, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised a review into the economic case for clinical services delivered via community pharmacy, which it said would inform the next community pharmacy contract.

It has also promised an NHS workforce review and plan, which Will Quince, minister of state for health and secondary care, has promised will include the pharmacy workforce, but has not yet confirmed whether it will include community pharmacy teams.

In an interview with The Pharmacist, Mr Dowd, who also co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, described community pharmacy as an integral part of the health service.

‘Locally, it's crucial. So the idea that it wouldn't be included would be would be barmy and would be completely out of kilter with what's needed,’ he added.

However, he said that the promised reviews, alongside others such as the tobacco review, were not moving fast enough. ‘All these reviews just seem to be stacking up from what I can see,’ he said.

‘What we don’t want is the old “Let’s have a review” and that’ll be kicking in the long grass for another three or six months. It’s not about that.’

He added: ‘We need reviews, but we need them to be as comprehensive, done as quickly as the possibly can with recommendations, and then more importantly, action within timelines.’

Mr Dowd, who is a Labour MP for Bootle in Merseyside, North West England, said that there was always a chance that reviews could be ignored because of the cost of implementing them.

But he said: ‘If you don't invest now, it's going to bite back in two, three, four, five years. And that's what we're seeing now – a lack of investment in the NHS, we're beginning to see a whole range of services beginning to bite back.

‘Moving out of the health sector, that starts to impact upon the economy more generally, in terms of productivity, people being off sick, illness, the impact that can also have on the Social Security budget, etc, etc. It's an incredibly narrow, short-term vision of health.’

He said that because health funding was limited by the funding envelope allocated by the Treasury, there needed to be a root and branch review of the needs of the NHS more generally.

‘You've got to do everything. And there has to be an honest appraisal of what the NHS is about,’ he said.

He added that pharmacy was one element of a ‘meta approach’ to the NHS, but said that there was a ‘rather granular approach in the NHS’, and when each of the granular elements were in a state of flux, ‘times 100, times 1000 services’, ‘the totality of the NHS itself is in crisis.’

However, if issues were addressed, Mr Dowd said that community pharmacy could play a key role as a ‘partner’ within an integrated system of healthcare, rather than being seen as an ‘add-on’, and that pressure could be taken off GPs by directing patients to the most appropriate service for their needs.

‘I think we saw from Covid that pharmacy was one of those ones that really did the business, didn’t it? In terms of, you know, the vaccinations – my local pharmacies were just outstanding, that’s absolutely the word I’d use. And if we can do it then [in Covid], we can do it now.’

He added that there should be more flexibility and autonomy for local areas to decide which services would best meet the health needs of their population, citing a locally commissioned smoking cessation service in his own constituency which brought down above average smoking rates.

‘I think there’s a culture of Westminster, Whitehall know best’, he said, which he thought led to a centralised service which did not necessarily meet local health needs.

He added that he thought that the NHS workforce plan should include localised workforce planning for each of the different healthcare professions and sectors.

In community pharmacy, he said: ‘there's a whole range of workforce issues that need to be tackled: recruitment, retention, the crossover between primary care, acute and the private sector. So all those thorny issues that have to be to be addressed in a planned fashion.’