Opinion: Pharmacies are a national treasure and need support

Jessica Learmond-Criqui wants the government to give proper support to pharmacies.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui wants the government to give proper support to pharmacies. - Credit: Archant

We may not appreciate some things until they are gone.

I do not speak here of camaraderie, school, work or the human right to say goodbye to those we love, all in temporary animated suspension during Covid-19 lockdown.

I also do not speak of the loss of our Hampstead police station, enforced reduction of police numbers or, not this week anyway, of the Hampstead post office which is temporarily closed.

I speak of our pharmacies. They have always been there, open and serving our community. In Hampstead, we have two independent traders, Keats and Ritz pharmacies, and Boots. But independent pharmacies are threatened and could face closures.

Some readers may not have seen the letter to the editor of your paper on April 30, 2020 by Dr Marion Harvey of Keats pharmacy. I am writing here in support of her letter and of pharmacies generally.

Many will not know that pharmacies, which dispense NHS drugs, have suffered severe government funding cuts. Between 2015 and 2018, £210m was cut. In 2016 the pharmacy minister anticipated up to 3,000 pharmacy closures and a petition of attracted 2m signatures. By last March 233 had already closed. Since the coronavirus pandemic began the government has injected £300m, but as a loan which must be repaid.

Pharmacies are not just shops on the high street. In non-emergency times, they play an active part in our healthcare relieving the stresses on GPs and A&E departments. In 2018-19 in England, they gave out 1.4 million flu vaccines. We cherish the NHS, but the dispensing counters of pharmacies are part of the NHS. Why does the government treat these businesses so poorly?

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With the strangle-hold on their finances and the poor reimbursement practices by our government, some pharmacies have to apply furlough measures of their own with reduced opening hours (which does not serve the community), staff reductions and withdrawal of free services including those to the elderly. At a time when we have come to realise the importance of key workers surely this needs a U-turn?

Scotland regularly invests in their pharmacies. Why not England? The government has spent gazillions over Brexit and Covid-19 which makes one’s eyes water. But it has abandoned the very people who power the NHS’s drug dispensing system who make little complaint. What’s the point of a GP’s prescription if it cannot be filled. Who wants to travel outside of one’s community to a distant pharmacy?

Our government does not care for our pharmacies. That is clear. The community must make a stand. And if we don’t stand up for our pharmacies, it won’t be long until they are gone. And we will miss them when they are gone.

May I invite the clap for carers campaign to include a clap for pharmacies and for rainbows to be drawn over pharmacies? May I also invite everyone to write to their MPs and demand that they take action to force a debate in parliament about the dire state of our pharmacies and demand a change in strategy. They are our national treasure as is the NHS. They need our protection as we need theirs.