Labour’s commitment to ‘move the dial’ from acute to preventative healthcare, alongside its desire for a ‘greater role’ for community pharmacy, has been welcomed by the sector.

The Pharmacist has been told by those representing the sector that pledges from Labour during its conference this week had been ‘encouraging’ but that there was also opportunity for the party to ‘go further’.

Pharmacy groups also said they were engaging with both political parties ahead of the next general election.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting used his address at the conference this week to reiterate his focus on moving towards a more preventative, community-based model of healthcare, as well promising to take ‘tough action’ against the junk food and vaping industries’.

Separately, he also told delegates this week that he wanted to see a ‘greater role’ for community pharmacy in delivering more patient care.

Spending on prevention

In response to a question from community pharmacist Ian Strachan at the Labour Party conference, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones suggested that Labour was looking at how it could start to ‘move the dial’ towards spending on preventative health, describing hospital backlogs as ‘enormously expensive’.

He added: ‘Community care, not just in GP surgeries but community pharmacies as well, is going to be a really important part of that whole system design.’

While the prevention agenda would fall under the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) rather than the Treasury, Mr Streeting told Mr Strachan and other delegates that the party’s mission-driven approach was ‘very personal’ to Labour leader Keir Starmer and therefore ‘[if] it is driven by the Prime Minister, [it] is much more likely to happen’.

Highlighting community pharmacy

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), of which Mr Strachan is a member, told The Pharmacist she was pleased that the group had been able to prompt Mr Streeting to speak about community pharmacy when ‘there wasn't really a tangible plan’ for the sector presented at the conference.

‘In the beginning, there was no talk about pharmacy. Wes Streeting attended several talks. There were talks about GPs and dentistry and what the plans are for GPs and dentistry, but there was no talk about pharmacy. We brought that in, which was good.’

Labour seems to have ‘clear focus on prevention’

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Community Pharmacy England (CPE), said: ‘The whole Labour health team seems to have a clear focus on prevention and acknowledges the critical need to shift the focus from secondary to primary care.’

She said that this aligned with CPE’s recently published vision for community pharmacy, set out by the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust.

‘The power of prevention is essential for the future of the NHS with investment in it long overdue: it is also a key area in which pharmacies can contribute and this gives us a real to opportunity to press for more investment in pharmacies both in the short-term and with whoever is in power after the next election.’

She added that CPE had been engaging with Wes Streeting and his team in recent months, and had been advocating for the future of community pharmacy at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences.

‘Whilst what we heard from Labour this week was encouraging, our work to build further support for pharmacy will continue in the coming weeks as we continue with our wide-ranging influencing programme ahead of the next CPCF negotiations and general election,’ Ms Morrison added.

Comments on pharmacy ‘welcome’

Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said that the group welcomed Mr Streeting’s comments on a greater role for community pharmacy.

He added that NPA chief executive Mark Lyonette had met the shadow health secretary during a round table meeting at the Labour Party conference, and highlighted the group’s work throughout the year organising pharmacy visits for Mr Streeting and shadow pharmacy minister Preet Kaur Gill.

‘The NPA is also committed to working with the next government – whoever it is – to ensuring the community pharmacy sector receives the investment and support it needs and deserves,’ Mr Jones said.

Opportunity to ‘go further’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), also said that it welcomed Mr Streeting’s comments advocating a greater role for community pharmacy and a focus on preventative healthcare.

He said that the CCA believed ‘there is an opportunity for the party to go further with community pharmacy, beyond the measures outlined in the [Health] Mission and we have directly shared our views with them.’

‘We look forward to continuing to support all political parties as they shape their thinking ahead of the general election,’ added Mr Harrison.

‘We have made it abundantly clear that there is an urgent need to fix the foundations of pharmacy funding and avert further permanent closures.

'An ever-shrinking pharmacy network cannot be expected to take on more and more workload, without the associated investment.’

Pharmacists will play key role in prevention

Tase Oputu, England board chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that ‘with continued pressure across the health service’ pharmacists will ‘play a key role in improving prevention, supporting care closer to home, and helping patients with their medicines’.

She added that the accessibility of community pharmacy ‘will be a key consideration in the future of patient care’, as highlighted in the RPS’ Vision for Pharmacy Practice in England.

The report ‘also highlighted the importance of a core consistent service across the country, so that the public can understand what care they can access no matter where they live’, she added.

She continued: ‘This needs to be backed by sustainable funding and a long-term commitment to recruiting and retaining the pharmacy workforce we need to keep looking after patients.’

‘Tough action’ on junk food and vaping

During his keynote address yesterday, Mr Streeting said that a Labour government would take ‘tough action’ against the junk food and vaping industries to better protect the health of children.

And he said the ‘fundamental problem’ with the NHS was that it ‘gets to people too late’, pledging to shift towards a more preventative, community-based model of healthcare.

He also told delegates this week that he wanted to see a ‘greater role’ for community pharmacy in delivering more patient care.

And he called for Rishi Sunak’s government to act now to support the sector.

Community pharmacy representatives were also present at the Conservative party conference last week in Manchester to make the case for investment in the sector.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new plan for phasing out smoking and an emphasis on preventative healthcare, while Health Secretary Steve 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.