Funding cuts could force hundreds of local pharmacies to close, cutting off a vital lifeline for elderly and vulnerable people and leaving some facing long journeys to collect essential medicines, councils warn.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils – who have responsibility for public health – is warning a £170 million reduction in NHS funding for community pharmacies could put many out of business.
In its response to the Department of Health’s consultation over proposals to instead use clinical pharmacists in primary care settings such as GP practices, the LGA insists local pharmacies must remain at the heart of communities, rather than risk bringing more people to surgeries and adding to existing pressures.
The LGA says the closure of community pharmacies could leave many isolated and vulnerable residents, particularly in deprived areas, struggling to access pharmacies for their potentially life-saving medicines.
For some people the local pharmacy is their only contact with a health professional, providing access to invaluable health advice and enabling older people to live more independently.
A bigger role for community pharmacies would instead help take away some of the strain from hospitals and GP practices. Local pharmacies should be expanded within their communities, say councils, providing important public health services such as health checks, smoking cessation, sexual health, screening and immunisations, in addition to dispensing and selling medicines.
Pharmacies should modernise, with new ways of ordering prescriptions and collecting medicines, including online ordering and delivery to the patient’s home.
Community pharmacies are also vital to ensure diverse and vibrant high streets, which can otherwise be dominated by betting shops, fast food outlets and payday lenders. The LGA said vacancy rates have doubled in recent years, with the amount of money shoppers are spending halved and insisted local pharmacies must remain at the heart of communities.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community Wellbeing spokeswoman, said:
“Maintaining community pharmacies is crucial to keeping older and frail people independent. They need to be at the heart of communities, close to where people shop, work and go about their daily lives, rather than the heart of the NHS.
“For many elderly people, their local pharmacist is not just a dispenser of medicines, but someone who they know and look to for informal health advice and information. Vulnerable and elderly people should never be forced to travel potentially long distances to pick up vital medicines and receive health advice.
“Community pharmacies do need to change but the cuts in funding could lead to many being forced to close. They should actually play a bigger role in providing public health services, alongside their important existing roles of supplying medicines. Additional investment in community pharmacies could improve the prevention of disease and access to health services. They can also help contribute to thriving high streets.
“Being at the heart of communities means pharmacies see people in every state of health and are ideally placed to play a central role in the prevention of illness, which can reduce costs and pressures on the NHS and adult social care.”