HC Deb 08 June 1993 vol 226 cc134-6
8. Mr. Hardy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is her estimate of the numbers of pharmacies which are at risk of closure during the next three years.

Dr. Mawhinney

Community pharmacies are independent commercial businesses. We have made no estimate of the number that might close, or open, in the next three years, as such events could be affected by a variety of factors.

Mr. Hardy

Is the Minister aware that the present policy will mean that a large number of pharmacies will be severely penalised and that many hundreds are now imperilled? Is he also aware that, as a result of that policy, enormous additional burdens will be placed on family doctors in less well-populated areas? Since the Government purport to care for rural England, will the Minister ensure that that policy is reconsidered in the interests of rural communities?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. That is not the consequence of the policies that are currently being pursued. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the negotiations that are now being undertaken between officials in the Department and representatives of the pharmacists. Those negotiations are proceeding constructively. We are seeking to replace indiscriminate subsidies to pharmacies with payments related more closely to professional services. The hon. Gentleman will find that the Public Accounts Committee has strongly endorsed that strategy. May I also assure him that we are committed to protecting the essential small pharmacies to which he referred.

Mr. Sims

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is just as important that pharmacies should be easily accessible in suburban areas as in rural ones? Does he also agree that patients could make fuller use of their local pharmacy for health care? There is a great potential for pharmacists to play an increasing role as part of the local primary health care team.

Dr. Mawhinney

As is so often the case, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We attach importance to maintaining essential small pharmacies not only in rural areas, but in suburban ones, particularly isolated pharmacies, perhaps on housing estates where people live at some distance from the main shopping centres. I assure my hon. Friend that it was precisely because of the current negotiations with the pharmacists that we have recognised that they have a value-added health role to play in offering professional advice and that we are, as part of those negotiations, looking to introduce a professional allowance for them.

Mrs. Mahon

The Government's policy affects the business of pharmacies. Does the Minister agree that any savings generated from a cheaper contraceptive pill could lead to more unwanted pregnancies and terminations as well as affecting the business of those pharmacies? The cost of one termination is £270 to the NHS, the cost of 10 years' supply of the contraceptive pill, so surely that is the economics of the madhouse.

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Lady's second question falls outside the scope of the main question. On her first question, I agree that hon. Members attach importance to maintaining an effective provision of pharmacies and the health advice that pharmacists can give. Over the past 10 years, the number of pharmacists has increased by 9 per cent. and the total number of pharmacists has increased by 13 per cent. Our desire to emerge with a stronger range of pharmaceutical advice for the constituents of all hon. Members forms part of our negotiations with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend do everything that he can to publicise the figures that he has just given to the House? Is he aware of rumours sweeping Staffordshire and other parts that the Government have evil designs on pharmacists? Will he unequivocally state that that is not the case?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is right—there have been suggestions in places further afield than Staffordshire that the Government have some sort of hidden agenda to close pharmacies. That is not true and I give that categorical assurance. I would deplore any attempt by anyone to try to gain advantage during the negotiations by scaring members of the public unnecessarily.