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Community Pharmacies

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

We receive a number of representations about community pharmacies over any period. Of course, they play a vital role in their local area, providing high-quality care and support and improving people’s health, especially in hard-to-reach communities. For example, more than 5,000 pharmacies assist with smoking cessation work.

I thank the Minister for her reply. With GPs managing demands on their time by operating longer waiting lists for appointments, to the increasing frustration of my constituents, is it not time for a more radical change in the role of community pharmacists in primary care? Does the Minister agree that any proposals to reorganise health services in Greater Manchester should fully explore the contribution that pharmacists can make—for example, in supporting people with long-term conditions or prescribing for minor conditions?

The hon. Lady is right to say that pharmacists have a great role to play, and she has given a good example of their helping people to manage long-term conditions and helping people with their medication. NHS England’s community pharmacy call to action has stimulated the debate about where community pharmacies should sit. We see them as a vital part of front-line services, and I am glad that the NHS is looking at their role in the round, because it is a really important one.

What representations has my hon. Friend received in relation to the sale of e-cigarettes in community pharmacies, given that they form part of the smoking cessation process?

I have received no specific representations on that matter, but my hon. Friend will know that we have taken measures to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s. He will also know that, as we transpose the new tobacco directive into our country’s law, there will be opportunities to bear down on some of the advertising and on the ways in which e-cigarettes are placed, about which we have some concerns. We recognise that e-cigs can be a way for some people to quit smoking, but we also recognise the concern that they could be a gateway into smoking for young people.

Does the Minister agree that one way in which community pharmacies can play a larger role in the NHS is in the provision of testing for, and raising awareness of, diabetes? Has she received any representations on that matter? Let us get diabetes testing on to the high street.

I think that I received a representation from the right hon. Gentleman in person when he was kind enough to visit my constituency with the Silver Star diabetes charity that he founded. That visit perfectly demonstrated the role of testing in the community; it was fantastic to see people queuing up to be tested in a day-to-day setting outside a supermarket. He is quite right to say that community pharmacies have a big role to play. I recently visited Tesco to learn about its work with Diabetes UK, and about the many tens of thousands of people that those two organisations, working together, have tested.

Does the Minister recognise that not only pharmacists but—here I declare a professional interest—optometrists represent a huge reservoir of underused professional skill and expertise in an unrivalled network of premises? Can we not find ways of using that expertise more effectively in primary care, diagnostics and—as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) suggests—screening?

I echo my previous point that all our front-line health care services have a role to play in the community in helping people to keep well, to stay out of acute care and to manage their medicine. Indeed, the NHS is looking at this question more widely, and I understand that the central message of Simon Stevens’s speech today is that we need to look in the round at the way in which all our front-line services work together to deliver great care in the community.