Government funding cuts could force closure of independent pharmacy in Harpenden

Owner of Manor Pharmacy Graham Phillips is unhappy with planned Government pharmacy funding cuts.

Owner of Manor Pharmacy Graham Phillips is unhappy with planned Government pharmacy funding cuts. - Credit: Archant

An independent pharmacy dispensing vital health advice and prescriptions for decades in Harpenden is under threat of closure because of looming government funding cuts.

Owner of Manor Pharmacy Graham Phillips is unhappy with planned Government pharmacy funding cuts.

Owner of Manor Pharmacy Graham Phillips is unhappy with planned Government pharmacy funding cuts. - Credit: Archant

Graham Phillips, who owns the Manor Pharmacy in Southdown, said he felt ‘let down’ after the Department of Health recently announced cuts to pharmacy services, despite fierce opposition from the sector and patients.

About £113 million will be slashed from December, with a further seven per cent cut to community pharmacy funding in 2017/18.

Graham has written to Harpenden town council to make councillors aware of how the government’s bid to close 3,000 pharmacies through financial attrition will affect the area.

He warned: “In Southdown there is only one pharmacy, which I own. I was about to sign a new lease but obviously I won’t now. And the pharmacy will close early next year.

“The only way to keep it open will be to lobby for it to be protected. The pharmacy minister David Mowat [recently] made two specific promises in parliament – that no population will be left without a pharmacy, and that no-one will have to walk more than ‘a few tens of metres’ further to collect a prescription.

“Clearly, when the Southdown pharmacy closes, neither of those promises will be fulfilled.”

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Graham ended his email, “with a plea of desperation. If you think this matters please lobby government to protect the Southdown pharmacy”.

He explained that as there were several pharmacies in the centre of Harpenden, none were fully protected, “because the government regards this as over-provision”.

The second-generation pharmacist runs seven pharmacies in Herts, including Wheathampstead, and has accused the government of ‘discrimination’ against the community provision.

He said that because Southdown was ‘marginally’ within the government’s arbitrary one mile limit – it is less than a mile from Harpenden main town – his pharmacy was not protected.

The House of Lords was told last month that there would be a list of pharmacies eligible for funding from an access scheme, for areas with fewer pharmacies and higher health needs. This list includes all those which are more than one mile from another pharmacy, and will thus be “protected from the full impact of the reductions”.

But, Graham pointed out: “There is no GP surgery in Southdown, so surely that makes the presence of a pharmacy all the more important.

“Boots, the supermarkets, Superdrug etc will not close because they are not significantly reliant on NHS funding for their business model. So it will be the independent pharmacists, like me, who will close.”

A ‘devastated’ Graham told the Herts Advertiser that, should his pharmacy close, it would affect housebound patients who received regular visits to have medication delivered, and would otherwise be socially isolated.

He warned, too, that it would impact heavily upon the local GP surgeries, whose services were already overstretched.

Harpenden MP Peter Lilley said: “I would be very disappointed if the branch in Southdown does close.”

He was due to meet with the minister, David Mowat, on Tuesday (1) to “discuss the issue of changes in financial support for pharmacies”.

Carl Cheevers, Harpenden’s town clerk, said: “It is always disappointing to hear of proposals that have the potential to negatively impact independent businesses in the town.

“The location of pharmacies should be based on local need and usage. It is worrying that this could see Harpenden unserved by independent pharmacies. The town council will be writing to our MP to outline the potential impact on Harpenden.”

Bharat Shah, owner of the independently-run Topkins Pharmacy in Station Road, said: “Patients will suffer. Some of our services are long-term ones, for the benefit of humankind, and can’t be measured as a cost. We are like the library – some people come in daily just to say ‘hello’, and these cuts will be detrimental to socially isolated patients. We have an ageing population, and other health services are overstretched – you can’t just walk into a GP surgery and get an appointment on the same day.”

Bharat said that while his pharmacy would not close as a result of the cuts, his hours might have to be reduced.