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Policy and politics

Labour Party clarifies plans to nationalise hospital pharmacies

Exclusive: A spokesperson for the Labour Party has clarified that it would undo the privatisation of NHS hospital pharmacies.

John McDonnell

Source: Jacob King/PA Wire/PA Images

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has said that he wants to bring private NHS contracts, including any relating to pharmacy services, “in house”

A Labour Party government would bring hospital pharmacies run by private companies back into NHS ownership, a party spokesperson has said.

The clarification follows comments made by John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, on 5 November 2019, when he said the Labour Party had plans to move the provision of pharmacy services “in house”.

Speaking on the radio station LBC, McDonnell said he wanted to nationalise the £10bn private sector contracts that are currently used to provide NHS services.

When asked whether this plan applied to pharmacies, he replied: “I believe pharmaceutical provision should be in-house, but at the same time … we will manage those contracts when we take over in government, when those contracts run out. We will protect the patients and bring them in-house.”

He added: “The reality is this: when you have a private contractor, you are paying out for that contractor to make a profit and, therefore, that money that’s paid out in profits is not being spent on patient care.”

McDonnell also said “in-sourcing is more effective … You are integrating the service into a democratic control overall [and] you are not wasting resources on profits that will go into private shareholders pockets — simple as that. Every penny that we pay on the NHS should be spent on patient care.”

However, in a statement sent to The Pharmaceutical Journal following a request for clarification, a spokesperson said: “John McDonnell was referring to hospital pharmacy services, which we will bring in-house.”

“We will unwind internal privatisation of NHS services by bringing contracts back in house as they expire and repealing the Health and Social Care Act.”

McDonnell’s comments come after Lord Carter’s review of efficiency in hospitals, published in 2016, found “significant potential for the buying, making and supply of medicines, along with other back-office functions, to become more efficient”, adding “that these services don’t always need to be delivered by NHS employed staff”. 

The review suggested that trusts should consider outsourcing “their outpatient dispensing services” to community pharmacy providers. 

The Pharmaceutical Journal found in January 2019 that 58% of acute trust have outsourced their outpatient dispensing services. However, it is unclear how many were outsourced to private companies.

The Labour Party also reiterated its pledge to create a state-owned generic drugs manufacturer to produce medicines at an “affordable” price to the NHS — a plan that was first suggested by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, at the September 2019 annual party conference.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20207315

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