Steve Brine MP attended The Pharmacy Show in Birmingham, speaking about the Health and Social Care Select Committee's upcoming inquiry into the future of pharmacy/
Speaking to delegates in a keynote address at the conference, Mr Brine said that workforce issues and medicines shortages were getting ‘in the way of thinking about the future’.
‘We’ll be turning up the heat on ministers on those issues,’ he told delegates.
And he said that the sector had ‘huge untapped potential’, describing pharmacists as ‘highly trained primary care professionals’.
Mr Brine added that he was looking forward to seeing where the Health and Social Care Committee’s ongoing pharmacy inquiry and work on the sector ‘takes us’.
‘I hope it will inform this parliament. I hope it will inform this government and also, I hope it will inform the next parliament and the next government,’ he said.
‘Those of us who care about this sector will carry on making the argument,’ he added, calling on pharmacists to engage with the inquiry sessions, which will be broadcast on Parliament TV, over the week ahead.
An expert panel commissioned by the Health and Social Care Committee recently found that the government's progress on its commitments to support community pharmacy ‘require improvement’, with legislative changes around skills mix being rated 'inadequate'.
One pharmacy contractor in the audience highlighted the cost savings generated by the community pharmacy sector in procuring medicines for the NHS, alongside real-term cuts to the sector’s funding.
He asked Mr Brine whether he was worried ‘that squeezing and squeezing the community pharmacy sector is going to kill off the goose that is giving you the £10 billion golden egg’.
‘Yes, I do massively share that concern,’ Mr Brine said in response, adding that consolidation of the sector only resulted in less primary care access for the public.
‘I genuinely, passionately do believe that the NHS in England is in big trouble, unless it stems demand over supply,’ he said, referencing pharmacy closures.
He suggested that young people were ‘opting out’ of the NHS, adding: ‘If we don't stem that tide, and make the NHS more accessible, understand that demand outstripping supply, then it's in big, big trouble.’
And he noted that community pharmacy could be a vital part of the prevention agenda, which was outlined as a priority for both the current government and the Labour Party at recent party conferences.
‘An area of huge potential for pharmacy is the prevention agenda,’ said Mr Brine, who told delegated he was ‘very pleased’ to hear Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting talking about prevention at the Labour Party Conference last week.
‘I may be a Conservative MP, but I want this agenda to continue to whatever happens with the election next year,’ he said.
While he recognised that community pharmacies made their money from dispensing, he suggested that ‘it doesn’t have to be that way’ if government ‘put their money where their mouth is on preventative health care and on primary care services’.