Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has suggested that community pharmacy could play ‘a really big role’ in his vision of ‘neighbourhood’ healthcare.

Speaking at an event hosted by healthcare thinktank The King’s Fund today, the Labour health secretary outlined how he thought primary care could be reformed to make it ‘fit for the future’.

He said that neighbourhood services, like community pharmacies, could provide patients with a better service and reduce pressure on general practice.

He said that many GP practices were already demonstrating how ‘deploying other roles within a practice, in addition to GPs, can provide patients with a much faster and better service’.

‘We can broaden that out to wider neighbourhood services to help reduce the burden on GPs,’ he added.

‘Community pharmacy [has] got a really big role to play’, he said, though he added that patient perception of pharmacy teams was not currently reflective of the clinical role they could play.

‘I think lots of the people in our country still think the person behind the counter is someone who’s trained just to dispense medicine, rather than someone who is actually highly qualified and trained to do a whole range of things,’ he said.

While progress was already being made in some areas, such as independent prescribing, ‘I think we could do a lot more with community pharmacy’, Mr Streeting said.

He added that he was ‘really alarmed’ by the news of major chains like LloydsPharmacy ‘pulling out rather than expanding’ and said: ‘I think we’ve got to grip that challenge.’

Mr Streeting also said that his team was ‘looking carefully’ at other models of local healthcare delivery, such as at community health centres that would bring different services together into one place.

Dr. Nick Thayer, Head of Policy at the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) said that the CCA was 'pleased to see the Shadow Health Secretary recognise the enhanced role that pharmacies should play in primary care reform'.

He added: 'Mr Streeting wants to see care brought closer to people’s homes and more front doors into the NHS. With 89.2% of the population located within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy, pharmacies do just that. They are essential to realising his vision of a "neighbourhood health service".'

He added that the first step towards this would be to commission a fully-funded Pharmacy First service in England, and that 'urgent same-day appointments for minor conditions in pharmacies will immediately benefit patients by increasing GP access'.

But he warned: 'With a 30% real-terms cut in funding and 720 pharmacies permanently closing since 2015, pharmacy desperately needs a funding injection. We cannot let the sector whither and decline, otherwise patient care, especially for those in the most deprived communities, will suffer'.