Tom Richmond: Chemist closure threat is lottery for the vulnerable

I'M lucky '“ there are two good pharmacies within walking distance of Richmond Towers. Others are not.

For, even though Ministers say the local chemist’s shop should be the first port of call for people with minor ailments and sniffles, the Government still sees fit to cut this budget by more than £200m.

The consequence? Projections that one fifth of this region’s 1,200-plus pharmacies could close with patients and families having to travel longer distances to collect prescriptions or receive advice.

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Health Minister David Mowat attempted to defend the indefensible when he told MPs that it is a “inefficient allocation of NHS funds” when “40 per cent of pharmacies are now in clusters of three or more, which means that two fifths are within 10 minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies”.

However the fact there are ‘clusters’ suggests that these are populated areas where there is demand for a pharmacy service – the opening times of rival premises don’t always overlap.

And what about the frail, immobile and sick who have the misfortune to live in a location set to lose its only chemists?

Once again, this smacks of Ministers coming up with a plan and then abdicating all responsibility because they expect local health chiefs to make sense of the nonsense passed down by Whitehall – when Leeds-based NHS England is not busy recruiting glorified exhibition organisers, as previously disclosed.

This is no way to run the National Health Service – or reassure those senior citizens who are already being made to feel by a burden by leaders who failed to foresee that an ageing population would create more work for the health system.

It is why I back Barnsley MP Michael Dugher’s push for a Parliamentary vote next Wednesday. If the Government is so convinced that its prescription is the right one, put it to the vote. Health policy should not come down to a postcode lottery called luck.

FIRST Labour scaremongerer-in-chief Andy Burnham said George Osborne wasn’t doing enough to turbo-charge the Northern Powerhouse. Yet now Manchester’s mayoral candidate accuses the Government of not seeing through the former Chancellor’s vision.

Let me tell Mr Burnham this. Stop talking down the North, roll up your sleeves and start doing something positive for about the first time in your career. And this shameful opportunist should remember this: The Northern Powerhouse would not have been needed if the last Labour government, of which you were a prominent member, had actually invested sufficient sums in this region’s infrastructure.

HOW ironic that the University of Leeds should co-author a report this week which showed how improvements to local bus services have reduced social deprivation in the country’s most challenging neighbourhoods. After all, it is Leeds where a small fortune of public money was spent on an ill-fated Trolleybus scheme which would have had the opposite effect.

NOT only did the Rural Payments Agency fail to pay farm subsidies on time last year, or with a degree of accuracy, but there are already warnings that this winter’s payouts will be late and inaccurate. If 16 per cent of welfare claimants had their money put on hold, there would be outcry. Why not farmers, the nation’s food producers? Unless it’s sorted and at least 95 per cent of farmers are paid the correct sum for 2016-17, Farm Minister George Eustice – who continues to live up to his sobriquet ‘Useless’ – will have to resign or be sacked.

CHATTING to Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner, he made an interesting point on regional devolution – he said the advent of the Scottish Parliament, and assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, meant politicians paid more attention to rural matters.

Let’s hope decision-makers in Yorkshire finally see sense, end their petty squabbling and start speaking with one voice when it comes to the future of this county’s urban and rural heartlands.

MORE progress on flooding policy. First Environment Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey acknowledged more needed to be done to help small businesses obtain affordable insurance.

Now Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has elicited the same response from Chancellor Philip Hammond who said “I have a considerable understanding of the problem, as my own constituency was subject to serious flooding in 2013-14,” before promising to raise the issue with colleagues. At least the answer was more helpful than the stonewalling of David Cameron’s ministers as recently as July.

THE bare-faced cheek of it. I refer to those brazen Scottish Nationalists who sought assurances from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling that there will be additional flights from Heathrow to their constituencies if and when a third runway is built. And there was me thinking that Scotland wanted independence. Talk about hypocrisy...

I SUGGEST Sky News presenter Kay Burley goes on a crash course in geography and history after having the temerity to describe Lancashire as ‘God’s own country’ this week. Methinks not.

A PARLIAMENTARY first? Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman described the Government’s housebuilding programme this week as “fiddle-faddle”. Like buses, it was then used by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to describe Labour’s record.

WHEN football pundit Gary Lineker tweeted that “the treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?”, the BBC denied he had broken its political impartiality rules because he is not employed by the Corporation.

Why, then, does the Match of the Day host mention ‘BBC Sport’ on his Twitter profile? A public official would be sacked if they expressed such bias. Why not Mr Lineker, whose vast salary, remember, is still paid by licence fee payers?

IT’S not just politicians who waste money – bottom of the table Sunderland spent £10m on so-called England international midfielder Jack Rodwell whose 32 Premier League starts have yet to yield a single win. The worst piece of football business ever?