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Health and care policy

Liberal Democrats promise to retain community pharmacists if elected to power

Liberal Democrat manifesto supports community pharmacies as a “vital service” and commits to “funding them sustainably”.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron campaigning

Source: Shutterstock.com

The Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to safeguard “vital services” by “funding them sustainably, supporting health and care workers, and joining up health and social care”. Pictured: Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron on the campaign trail.

A Liberal Democrat government would ensure local communities retain access to community pharmacists, according to the party’s general election manifesto, published on 16 May 2017.

The party, which lost 50 seats in the 2015 general election reducing its total to just 8, has accused the government of leaving the NHS and social care in “a state of crisis”.

Its manifesto sets out a raft of proposals to safeguard “these vital services” by “funding them sustainably, supporting and valuing health and care workers and joining up health and social care”.

The party’s pledge to ensure local areas have access to community pharmacies would reverse plans, announced by the Conservative government in October 2016, to cut community pharmacy contractual funding by £320m over two years.

Amid fears this would lead to the closure of thousands of pharmacies across England, the National Pharmacy Association, the industry body that represents independent pharmacies, and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee submitted separate applications for judicial review of the policy.

However, the UK High Court ruled on 18 May 2017 that the cuts were lawful.

Speaking ahead of the manifesto’s publication, a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said: “It would be disastrous for any local area to be left without a community pharmacy because of this government’s short-sighted funding decisions.

“We know that not only are pharmacies highly valued by the communities they serve but that, by ensuring people are able to access healthcare interventions quickly and easily within their communities, pharmacies also alleviate pressure from other overstretched parts of our NHS. We must not underestimate what an essential service they provide.”

Other proposals in the health and social care section of the manifesto include promoting easier access to GPs by expanding evening and weekend opening times, supporting GPs to come together to provide services collectively, and encouraging GPs and other community clinicians to work in disadvantaged areas through its Patient Premium.

The document also sets out plans to review the rules for exemption from prescription charges to ensure they are fair to those with long-term conditions and disabilities. 

Achieving parity of esteem in mental health has always been high on the Liberal Democrats’ priority list and this latest manifesto reflects the party’s continuing commitment to that. Measures proposed include increasing access to clinically effective and cost-effective talking therapies, transforming mental health provision for pregnant women, new mothers and those who have experienced miscarriage and stillbirth, and ensuring all frontline public service professionals, including schools and universities, receive better training in mental health.

The party also commits to ending out-of-area placements to ensure those admitted to hospital for mental ill health can be treated close to home. 

There is also a range of preventive measures set out to help people stay healthy. These include developing a strategy to tackle childhood obesity, encouraging a traffic light labelling system on food products and introducing a levy on tobacco companies so they contribute fairly to the costs of healthcare and smoking cessation services. 

The party plans to fund its proposals by implementing an immediate 1p rise on basic, higher and additional rates of income tax to raise £6bn in additional revenue, which would be ringfenced solely for expenditure on the NHS and social care services.

This could be replaced in the longer term, the manifesto says, by a dedicated health and care tax.

The Liberal Democrats also propose the creation of a cross-party health and social care convention that would bring together stakeholders from all political parties, patient groups, the public and healthcare professionals to review the longer-term sustainability of the health service. A statutory independent budget monitoring agency for health and care would oversee budgets, the party adds.

“Liberal Democrats recognise that Britain’s health and social care services are our most treasured national institutions. Any party seeking to lead the country after this election should be prepared to take bold action to safeguard them. This isn’t about doing the easiest thing, it is about doing what is right and what is essential,” the manifesto concludes.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202805

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  • Lib Dem leader Tim Farron campaigning

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