Ham&High letters: Pharmacists, London Living Wage, care homes, 100AR, Kenwood and good deeds

A pharmacist stocking shelves in a chemist. Picture: PA/Julien Behal

A pharmacist stocking shelves in a chemist. Picture: PA/Julien Behal - Credit: PA

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

Government must back pharmacists

Dr Marion Harvey BPharm MRPharmS PhD, superintendent pharmacist/proprietor, Keats Pharmacy & Vaccination Clinic, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, writes:

“...how important it is that our pharmacists are not only dispensing vital medicines but also very often reassurance to the customers they interact with...so thank you to our wonderful pharmacists for everything that you are doing” - the prime minister on March 29.

A welcome appreciation for pharmacists in the national emergency as the only primary care facility still fully open to the public across over 11,000 outlets in England.

The fact is however that community pharmacy went into the pandemic in the grip of a crisis of its own following a series of severe government funding cuts. Between 2015 and 2018, the reduction to the pharmacy budget was 7.4 per cent – £210 million. The sector’s current deal with the government, lasting for five years and with no new money, is estimated with inflation to cut at least a further 9pc.

Then pharmacy minister Alistair Burt told MPs in 2016 he foresaw up to 3,000 pharmacy closures from the cuts. A petition of two million signatures opposing them did nothing to turn the tide.

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Pharmacy’s plight is exacerbated by the broken system of reimbursement for the drug purchases pharmacies make for NHS prescriptions that regularly pays them back less for the drugs than they paid suppliers for them.

This onslaught seems counter-intuitive when there is a great deal community pharmacy could be doing in normal times to alleviate the enormous stresses on GPs and A&E departments. The 1.4 million flu vaccinations given in pharmacies in England in the 2018-19 season are testament to what can be achieved.

The position in England is in stark contrast to Scotland, where the cherishing of their community pharmacy by the Scottish government is underpinned by regular investment.

The oppressive situation has left pharmacy owners with no choice but to resort to reduced opening hours, staff reductions and withdrawal of free services such as deliveries and preparation of measured drug trays for the elderly. And then, of course, there are closures, a proportion of them falling in deprived areas where community healthcare needs can be the greatest.

The pandemic presents a major financial challenge all of its own as pharmacies face up to a huge spike in bills from the surge in covid-related dispensing. True the government has put some more funding in, £300 million, to aid cash flows but it’s strictly a loan to the sector – every penny must be repaid later.

Pharmacy’s representative body in funding discussions, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, has tried repeatedly to get the government to relent on its stance but to no avail. Instead the impression is left of a political power that cares little for the contribution pharmacy makes to national wellbeing or for the dedicated, hardworking teams who people it, and simply sees a soft touch for scalping public funds.

Might it be hoped that when the current crisis is over, the PM’s effusive words will translate into a meaningful re-assessment of the government’s funding approach?

Living wage

Cllr Dawn Barnes, Crouch End ward, writes:

In an article last week on the large number of high paid staff at Haringey Council, you described the council as “an early adopter of the London Living Wage”.

In fact, it only received accreditation by the Living Wage Foundation in 2018 after Opposition Lib Dem councillors put a motion to full council cajoling them to get on with it. By the point the council achieved accreditation thousands of employers – including 16 other councils in London – had already received it.

What is more, Haringey has not even fully implemented the policy. Just this month, it delayed making the necessary payments to home carers working on its behalf – who are currently risking their lives due to coronavirus – until at least July.

The council should not be allowed to use its long overdue efforts on behalf of its lower wage workers, as a shield to deflect other criticisms of its employment policies and six-figure salaries.

Care homes

Catherine West MP, Hornsey & Wood, writes:

National reports of frontline care staff left struggling to access essential personal protective equipment (PPE) have shocked and horrified us all.

I’ve been in contact with our care homes and sheltered housing schemes locally over the past few weeks and they’re doing incredible work caring for some of our most vulnerable people at this difficult time. Yet they’ve shared with me their frustrations of running desperately short of supplies and receiving inadequate government deliveries – with one manager telling me they’d feared having to use their own credit card to buy more as stock was so low. Haringey Council and Haringey Clinical Commissioning Group have stepped in to help and I’ve been urgently raising issues in parliament with the health secretary and minister for social care, but this situation should never have been allowed to arise.

PPE isn’t the only problem. Until recently, care workers without cars have found it impossible to access testing centres even if they’ve been working with residents who’ve tested positive for Covid-19. Others have told me of the devastation at being left to provide end-of-life care for very sick residents who they felt would, in normal circumstances, have been treated in hospital.

I’m backing calls for the government to ensure care home deaths are reported and released in the same way as hospital deaths to ensure transparency. When this crisis is over there will be a lot of lessons to be learnt. As your MP I will continue to call for proper funding and resources for the social care sector and the dedicated staff who are on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.

Avenue Road

Green Edie Raff, chairman, Cresta House Residents Association, writes:

Construction work on Essential Living’s 24 story tower at 100 Avenue Road has carried on throughout the Covid-19 crisis despite government guidelines that construction work must play an important role in “ensuring public safety” or providing ‘public services.’

Not even Essential Living could have the gall to pretend that building their high-end apartments with no social housing element and a mere nod to “affordability” have anything whatsoever to do with “ensuring public safety” or the provision of “public services”. Yet, the interpretation of whether specific construction works are permissible has been left up to developers themselves. The council cannot help and neither can the police.

The council has admitted that it is helpless to intervene (even if they wanted to…): “… we do not have any legal power to intervene and close down construction sites or force them comply with government guidance…”

And so, evidently, are the police who can only take action on activity that takes place outside of a site: “…The police have advised the council that if workers are congregating for example outside of a site, they are able to take action.” (April 14, 2020: Elizabeth Beaumont (Enforcement Manager Camden Council))

EL have taken advantage of the toothless government guidelines and are selfishly sacrificing the well-being of the community in favour of their own bottom line. The hundreds of residents whose homes surround the site – some of whom we know are struggling to manage the rigours of Covid-19, some who are (genuine) key workers trying to catch up on sleep, and most of whom are just trying to stay sane while self- isolating at home on government orders – are powerless to avoid the relentless, daily, 10-hour cacophony of clanging, banging, scraping, drilling, rasping, thudding, yelling, grinding, and churning that goes on six days a week on the site.

For us there is no escape from this living nightmare. It is inexcusable for the government to allow such a life-destroying decision to be left in the hands of the perpetrator.

How do any of them sleep at night?


Anna Farlow, Lyndale Avenue, Hampstead, writes:

Further to Marc Rothman’s letter regarding the closure of the Kenwood Estate, I have asked the chief executive of English Heritage why it was necessary to close the entire estate, and they have kindly given an answer which, I think, will explain the situation: “Whilst the Kenwood estate includes open green space, first and foremost it is an historic site and it’s the responsibility of English Heritage to care for the property, its collection and landscape. As you’d expect, we have stringent security measures in place, and in order for us to fulfil that responsibility, in the current circumstances, it is not possible to permit visitor access into the estate without public facing staff present there.”

Sad as it is not to have access to the grounds and car park I do see that they must give priority to security under the present circumstances.

Good deeds

Keith Martin, Friern Park, North Finchley, wrote to Barnet Council leader, Dan Thomas:

This is a message for those of us who survive the devastation of the pandemic. It is inspiring to see you leading from the front, volunteering to pack and deliver food from the food banks to self-isolated people.

Please would you add to your check list of good deeds which require help from councillors and all those of goodwill in the community:

1. Volunteer with fellow able bodied councillors to collect the green wheelie bins of garden waste waiting with their yellow stickers outside our houses for collection by Team Barnet.

2. Consult, in collaboration with the culture minister Oliver Dowden, the shadow culture minister Jo Stevens, and CILIP, the professional association of Chartered Librarians, to write the detailed requirements of the forthcoming 2021 Libraries Act, to replace the rather weak wording of the 1964 Act, and require local authorities in the UK to provide comprehensive and efficient public library services. Palpably a single security guard in an unstaffed library does not meet this requirement. The passing of the new 2021 Act by parliament is required as soon as the libraries are reopened after the end of the pandemic. We realise the enormity of what has been lost only when deprived of it. This morale-building exercise is needed both for the re-employed librarians replacing the volunteers, and for adults and children in need of the services for study and recreation. Readers have been deprived of these services by some local authorities these last ten years in the mistaken exercise of cutting costs at the expense of education.