Pharmacy (Responsible Pharmacists, Superintendent Pharmacists etc.) Order 2022 Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Pharmacy (Responsible Pharmacists, Superintendent Pharmacists etc.) Order 2022

Baroness Brinton Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Brougham and Vaux Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely and I call her now.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this Order and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for explaining his amendment. First, as others have said, it is important to recognise the contribution pharmacists in our health service have made for many years—long before the NHS was created. Too often we talk about clinical and health care professionals and do not raise the vital contribution made by pharmacists. Covid-19 has really demonstrated in a number of ways that they are not only a cornerstone of the NHS and our healthcare system. In the pandemic, and lockdown especially, they also stepped up, took on extra responsibilities and became a new frontline service for people concerned about minor symptoms that they would normally have taken to their GPs, while their GPs were overrun with many more serious cases, including Covid cases.

I too thank the PSNC for the pharmacy advice audit it sent through earlier this week. We now know that nearly a quarter of a million consultations a week—that is 65 million informal healthcare consultations a year—are still being carried out in community pharmacy because patients are unable to access another part of the healthcare system. We should not forget, either, that the pharmacy database was used as the basis for the NHS app because it already had direct links with GP records, prescriptions and vaccinations that were delivered by pharmacists in their pharmacies.

Turning to the SI, which clarifies the governance of, and sets out the roles of, responsible pharmacists and superintendent pharmacists, the brief summary by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raises some key issues. The Minister is right: although there are only three paragraphs, its report is certainly worth reading. It says in paragraph 14:

“several proposals were not popular with respondents to the consultation exercise on the grounds that they may reduce patient safety, particularly provisions allowing Superintendent Pharmacists to cover more than one firm and Responsible Pharmacists to cover more than one pharmacy or to operate remotely. We also note significant levels of distrust from the profession that the regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council … would be able to set standards and rules appropriately.”

Worryingly, the committee goes on to say:

“We found the response of the Department of Health and Social Care … to these concerns, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, unconvincing.”

In the next paragraph, it says:

“In supplementary material, DHSC told us that to counter the concerns the GPhC will be required to consult on any proposed rules, which will provide the profession with an opportunity for scrutiny and comment. In addition, any changes to professional rules made … would need to be made by a statutory instrument following the negative resolution procedure in Parliament.”

Although this extra information to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is reassuring, I still want to ask the Minister what the timescale is likely to be before such an instrument is laid before Parliament for scrutiny, explaining those concerns outlined by the committee and how they will be alleviated.

I thank the General Pharmaceutical Council for its briefing, which sets out the safeguards in the draft order to consult on the rules and report back. I know we look forward to seeing the detailed responses to the consultation and how they might affect the resulting resolution. With any change in responsibility, trust is absolutely critical, and this is on top of the increase in community consultations and referrals to other parts of the healthcare system that pharmacists throughout the UK are now carrying out. This is the real change already happening in our primary care system that Ministers say we should be looking for, and the public have taken to it.

The All-Party Pharmacy Group notes that the new demands on pharmacists have been coupled with a real-terms decrease in funding over the last eight years. Despite their desire to help, many pharmacies have had to limit or reduce their offerings and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said, some pharmacies are closing. It is in this context that the noble Lord has brought forward his amendment, asking your Lordships’ House to consider that

“the Order does not make provision about the wider workforce challenges facing the community pharmacy sector”.