On 1 December community pharmacies in Wolverhampton and around the country will have their budgets cut significantly by the government.
The planned cuts were discussed at the full council meeting on 9 November. The council passed a resolution condemning the cuts. Every Labour councillor present voted in favour, and every Conservative councillor present voted against.
Wolverhampton MP Rob Marris has expressed his disappointment at the stance taken by Conservative councillors. With many others, the MP has been campaigning for months against the proposed cuts.
The government will implement cuts of about £300 million to the budgets of all pharmacies. Informed forecasts are that 3,000 local pharmacies swill close as a result. Government ministers have denied that figure.
As part of the campaign, Rob Marris has met Jeff Blankley, Chair of the Wolverhampton City Local Pharmaceutical Committee. Mr Blankley says: “We expect that pharmacy owners will be forced to take steps to reduce costs. These are likely to include reducing opening hours and staffing, and stopping the provision of services which they are not obliged to provide, such as home delivery of medicines and the supply of medicines in compliance aids. We are very concerned about the impact that this will have on patients. Already I have spoken to one contractor in Wolverhampton that has said these cuts from December will make the business unviable.”
Mr Marris commented “I’m saddened to hear that Conservative councillors chose not to support their local pharmacies, and not to send a clear message to their government. Local Pharmacies have approached me warning that these cuts will force services to be withdrawn. In February I wrote to the Cabinet Minister Jeremy Hunt raising my concerns and those of the hundreds of constituents who have written to me.
“At a time when hospital and GP budgets are under severe strain, and when sometimes there are queues outside GP surgeries, I cannot quite understand why any government would want to close pharmacies – they are an easily accessible, seven-day source of NHS services conveniently located on high streets across the country.
To learn more about the role of community pharmacies, last May Rob Marris spent a morning with Graham Case at his family-run Upper Green Pharmacy in Tettenhall. The staff are very experienced and highly-trained, and know a large number of their patients personally. They offer free advice, recommendations, referrals, and reassurance, and provide a range of health services. Customers can get face-to-face healthcare advice without an appointment, tailored to their individual needs.
Defending the government’s plans, community health minister David Mowat MP told Parliament: "Given the gross margins that are currently being made by the average pharmacy, including smaller ones, I do not believe that the efficiency savings that we are asking for will cause widespread closures."
Upper Green Pharmacy Proprietor Graham Case responded to Government plans, “The free services that could be under threat at some local pharmacies are home delivery of medicines and the supply of medicines in compliance aids. This is a concern to me as it has the potential to impact our most vulnerable patients.
“I have been a Wolverhampton Community Pharmacist for over 30 years, that’s over 30 years of free advice, recommendation, referral and reassurance. Fighting the NHS’ corner; helping communities; helping to cut healthcare costs; trying to add value.
“I have never felt so professionally undervalued by the service to which I have devoted the whole of my career.”
Picture (Rob Marris MP visiting Tettenhall’s Upper Green Pharmacy in June)