Pharmacists' plea to Chancellor for Covid support cash: 'You can live without pizzas, but you can die without your pills'

Rishi Sunak has been warned that “you can live without pizzas, but you can die without your pills”, as pharmacists in the Chancellor's own constituency warned they may have to close unless the Government reimburses £370m of Covid costs.

Boris Johnson said last month that he "wanted to make sure [pharmacies] are reimbursed as soon as possible" for additional pandemic costs, and that he did not want to see any closed.

But a campaign launched by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that help had not yet been forthcoming, and a pharmacist in Mr Sunak's North Yorkshire constituency made a direct plea to him to step in.

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Mr Sunak said last year that “whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with coronavirus, it will get”, while just last month Boris Johnson said: “I don’t want to see any pharmacies close.”

Jonathan Cooper, owner of Coopers Chemists in Great Ayton. Photo: NPA

But the NPA said this was a real risk and that the delay in providing the support was a slap in the face to pharmacists and their staff who have put themselves at risk on the NHS frontline during the pandemic.

Jonathan Cooper, owner of Coopers Chemists in Great Ayton, said: “My pharmacy and many others like it have continued to see patients in the community while other parts of the health system could not offer this vital service. Had community pharmacies not worked so hard to keep their doors open this national crisis would have been far worse.

“As a result we have incurred massive extra costs and the Government needs to cover this as promised. We want to give a message to Mr Sunak: our door is open – please let us keep it that way by reversing these devastating cuts.”

While Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, told The Guardian earlier this week that: “Sadly most of these closures are likely to hit hardest the areas of the country where pharmacies are most needed. We hope Rishi Sunak will intervene urgently.”

National Pharmacy Association chief executive Mark Lyonette said Mr Sunak, whose mother is a pharmacist and runs Sunak Pharmacy in Portsmouth, “has spent millions subsidising the food and hospitality sector in Yorkshire.

“He of all people should know the importance that pharmacies play in Yorkshire.

“You can live without pizzas, but you can die without your pills.”

And he added: “Pharmacies have been a local lifeline during the coronavirus crisis – a vital part of the NHS frontline. But the government continues to drag its feet over offering proper financial assistance for pharmacies like Coopers in Great Ayton.

“The Prime Minister promised to give the NHS whatever it needs to cope with coronavirus and pharmacies are a vital part of the NHS frontline. We need Government to make good on commitments to meet all the additional costs associated with coronavirus and also address long term underfunding - so that pharmacies can stay open to keep people well and save lives.”

The NPA has launched a campaign to push the Government to keep to the commitment, and protests are planned in the constituencies of several government ministers, including the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

Talks are ongoing between the sector and the Government and a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Community pharmacies make an important contribution to the NHS, and have gone above and beyond in response to COVID-19 to serve their communities, including playing a key role in our vaccination programme.

“During this unprecedented pandemic, £370m has been made available in advance payments to support pharmacies in maintaining medicine supplies and providing health advice.”