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LORD GRADE: We must save the heroic local apothecaries like me!

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650 vital High Street pharmacies over the past six years were revealed last week.

The real frontline of the NHS, your local chemist, is stepping back just when we need them more than ever to ease the demand for GP visits.

They are closing at an alarming rate because their contract with the NHS has been frozen since 2016. As a result, the prices that all pharmacies are reimbursed for prescription drugs and other services have been frozen.

The irregularities in this deal mean that the Department of Health is acting as if individual independent pharmacists enjoy the same volume discounts as Boots and other big chains, who can negotiate discounts from wholesalers – which they clearly don’t.

The real frontline of the NHS, your local chemist, is stepping back just when we need them more than ever to ease the demand for GP visits.

The real frontline of the NHS, your local chemist, is stepping back just when we need them more than ever to ease the demand for GP visits.

The burden placed on these community heroes through the NHS contract is endless.

In 2020, a report by Ernst & Young predicted that by 2024 the average pharmacy would face a shortfall of £43,000 – based on pre-pandemic figures – and the report suggests that the pandemic is “likely” to have “further weakened the network”. ‘.

A letter sent to the Health and Social Care Committee last month pointed out that the funding deal agreed in 2019 had not been adjusted to reflect inflation and the costs of Brexit and the pandemic.

As a result of all this, Tim Gibbs, my local independent pharmacist in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, works seven days a week.

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He has no time for his family. He can only open his shop when he, a qualified pharmacist, is on the premises because he cannot afford a locum.

Each time he dispenses a prescription, he is 73p out of pocket: he is paid £1.27, but dispensing it costs £2 in overheads such as insurance, business tax and specialist computer systems.

So no day off and no vacation. In Yarmouth, I see first hand how important our local pharmacy is.

The irregularities in this deal mean that the Department of Health is acting as if individual independent pharmacists enjoy the same volume discounts as Boots and other big chains, which can negotiate discounts from wholesalers – and they clearly don’t.

Public transport isn’t booming and many residents can’t find or manage a bus to make the long journey to the nearest big city, Newport. They rely on the community pharmacy for vital medicines. This is true on all these islands.

So many residents around Yarmouth depend on Tim’s selfless service – delivering prescriptions to those who can’t visit them in person because he also can’t afford a delivery assistant.

Tim’s story is not unique.

Large chains will be fine; independent businesses are at risk, businesses run by people like Tim who have been key figures in their fields for years.

What is the Department of Health doing about this community disaster? Nothing yet as far as I can see. I campaigned publicly in the House of Lords to stop all these independent, vital community chemists going out of business, and it is clear that these closures are avoidable, as the Government well knows.

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If this decline is not corrected soon, there will be no independent community pharmacies left on the High Street. Because it keeps getting worse. New import regulations mean that vital medicines can no longer be stockpiled to ensure supplies because there are not enough stocks.

And drug prices are skyrocketing. For example, alendronic acid, used to treat osteoporosis, has risen in price from 74p each to £5 (and they are issued in packs of four tablets, so from £2.96 to £20). Citalopram for depression used to cost 84p for 28 20mg tablets; now costs £3.75.

The Department of Health’s response to this crippling disparity between drug price and reimbursement is to require pharmacists to make a separate claim for each item – which could easily be hundreds of items a day.

When did these overworked superheroes get time? Filling out hundreds of forms a day instead of serving people in need?

GP surgeries will be the first to feel the effect of further closures, quickly followed by A&E. No one in the know begins to realize how much unpaid time off these pharmacies take up on the front lines of health, saving appointments with a word of wisdom and over-the-counter consultations.

Tim Gibbs told me he is seeing more “patients” face to face than ever because they can’t get a GP appointment. He does it, like all his peers, for nothing. Unpaid, and worse, taken for granted until this vital service goes bankrupt.

The current arrangements with the NHS and these independent pharmacies are straining the goodwill and commitment of this shrinking group of community service providers to breaking point. More and more of them are giving up the fight.

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By the time the rate of closure, already at epidemic proportions, reaches the doomsday trajectory it is hurtling towards, it will be too late.

This decline needs to be reversed – and soon. It should easily be cost neutral so many NHS appointments could be saved.

It’s such a simple fix. The NHS contract needs an overhaul and those in power need to value community pharmacies as much as their customers, patients and voters.

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