Thousands of pharmacies face closure as government slashes budgets
MPs from across the political divide are fighting to prevent up to a quarter of England's community pharmacies closing in the face of deep government cuts.
The Government announced last December it would be cutting the budget for chemists by £170m during 2016/17, starting in October.
Health Minister Alistair Burt said in January that up to 3,000 of the country's 11,200 community pharmacies “could be affected” but has since admitted officials do not know which might be forced to shut.
Campaigners are outraged at the plans and have voiced concern that some areas may be left with no local chemist.
Last week a cross-party group of MPs, including Labour's Michael Dugher, Tory Derek Thomas and Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb, delivered a petition to Downing Street against the cuts.
Ministers argue they want to thin out “clusters” of pharmacies serving the same area, but former shadow frontbencher Mr Dugher branded the argument “utter rubbish”.
In an article for PoliticsHome he railed against the “unwarranted and unjust cutback” which he said would deal a “hammer blow” to the role of chemists in frontline healthcare.
“The closures will mean that thousands of people, many of them elderly and frail, will face a far longer walk or difficult journeys on public transport to reach their nearest pharmacy,” he wrote.
“The Government’s cut will be a disaster for community healthcare and pile more pressure on our already overstretched GPs and hospital A&E units.
“Many of these closure-threatened pharmacies are in deprived areas where there is the greatest need for what they offer.”
The Barnsley East MP added that the cuts would prove a “false economy” as patients head to GP surgeries and hospitals where they would previously have gone to their local chemist.
Responding to a Parliamentary Question posed in April, Mr Burt said the Government was “not able to assess which pharmacies may close” or the effect on high street vacancy rates.
He explained that officials did not know the financial viability of individual businesses or the relevant details of their incomes.
During a debate last week Mr Burt added that the suggestion 3,000 chemists could shut was “me extrapolating the figures”.
He said: “It is not the aim of the Government to close pharmacies and... we do not know exactly how the funding will fall, because we do not know yet the result of the negotiations and how this will be handled.”