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Source: MAG / The Pharmaceutical Journal

Popping to your local pharmacy to pick up vital life-saving prescriptions could be a thing of the past here in Britain, thanks to the Tories’ controversial plans to close thousands of high street chemists.  

Twisting the knife further into Britain’s already battered National Health Service, the government has announced local pharmacies could be set to close, a consequence of a punishing £170m NHS funding cut.  

Earlier this year, Alistair Burt, Health Minister at the time, suggested that between 1,000 and 3,000 high street pharmacies could shut due to spending cuts.  

According to official estimates, a local pharmacy receives, on average, approximately £220,000 NHS funding annually. At the start of 2016 the Department of Health said pharmacy funding is set to fall from £2.8 billion to £2.63 billion, in a bid to save £22 billion from the NHS by 2020.  

The Department of Health argue that that in certain regions of Britain, there are more pharmacies than is necessary. Though even the government is now admitting that the £321m subsidy cut for community pharmacies will mean the elderly and sick will have to travel further for medicines.  

Stark opposition  

Whilst the government attempts to justify its clearly unmerited cuts to community chemists, antagonism over the plans is brewing.  

Following a petition opposing the budget cuts, which attracted more than two million signatures, the £170m NHS spending slash was delayed.  

Controversy and opposition has been reignited since the Pharmaceuticals Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), made the Department of Health’s proposals to cut funding by 12% by December, public.  

“Founded on ignorance” 

The PSNC referred to the cuts as “madness”, warning the closures would damage the health service and social care. Speaking to BBC’s Radio Four, Sue Sharpe, chief executive of PSNC said the cuts and closures of high street chemists would create “chaos”, as there would be a greater reliance on GPs.  

Sharpe said in a letter to the Department of Health:

The proposals were and remain, founded on ignorance of the value of pharmacies to local communities, to the NHS, and to social care, and will do great damage to all three. We cannot accept them

Public outcry 

It’s not just those involved in the health industry that recognise the havoc and calamity closing pharmacies local residents regularly rely on is likely to create. Patients are also up in arms about the contentious closures.  

Richard from Hertfordshire asked Evolve Politics:

My elderly mother has to regularly pick up her prescription from her local chemist, for medication that basically keeps her alive. With no car and limited mobility, what will she do if the pharmacy closes?

Scepticism shared by 35-year-old Katie, a medical receptionist in the North West, who spoke of the contradictions of the plans: 

It’s ludicrous. One minute they’re encouraging us to use pharmacies more and only rely on GPs and hospitals for more emergency situations, and the next they’re saying thousands of pharmacies might be closed

And contradictory is certainly the word the springs to mind. If we think back to 2014 when the officials referred to putting pressure on Accident and Emergency Departments as “unsustainable”, and Jeremy Hunt urged patients to visit pharmacies instead of A&E and GPs, the dramatic closure of so many pharmacies in the pipeline this winter could be viewed as being an example of an ironic U-turn by a Health Department belittled with chaos and contradiction.  

Targeting the elderly and the sick 

Even the Telegraph, a notoriously Conservative boot-licking newspaper, notes how ministers recently unveiled that for every 100 chemists that shut, journey times to a nearest chemist would be increased by an average of five seconds. If 1,000 chemists closed, a minute’s average journey time would be added to travelling to the nearest chemist, writes the Telegraph.  

Whilst having to travel an average of a minute longer to reach a local chemist might not sound like like much, this statistic doesn’t realistically portray the potential severity of the closures. For those living in rural communities, the closure of their local pharmacy could pose as a real problem, particularly for the for the elderly and sick, who often don’t have means to transport. 

As Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said

The plan to close community pharmacies is bad news for many people living in towns, but it could be a disaster for country-dwellers who find it hard to get to the nearest big town.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, shares Spiers concerns, stating: 

For many older people their local pharmacy is the first place they go if they are feeling poorly and in rural areas especially it can be a lifeline, since the nearest hospital or GP surgery may be many miles away.

Labour has also been quick to oppose the closures, citing the plans as “deeply unpopular” and “short-sighted.”  

As schools and parents are on tenterhooks over the safety of their children arriving and leaving school following the cruel axing of safety patrol officers due to harsh school budget cuts, the sick and elderly now face the prospect of living without the security of a local pharmacy. It certainly seems it’s society’s most vulnerable which are bearing the brunt of the Tories’ coldblooded cuts.  

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