Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I should declare that Boots has its headquarters partly in my constituency and partly in Nottingham South. May I gently say to the Minister that there is great concern about the proposals? If there was ever a time to argue to increase the role of pharmacies, it is now. They perform a hugely powerful job in making sure that people do not, to be frank, bother their GPs and A&E with matters that are best dealt with by pharmacies because they are of a minor nature. The Minister makes a good point about clustering, but he has to get this right, because, if he damages pharmacies, there will be fewer of them, not just in poorer areas, but in remote rural areas. I urge the Government to take a hard good look at the issue, to make sure that this is the right approach as the pressures on the NHS increase.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. Boots makes a big contribution. It owns 1,724 pharmacies and is the biggest of the big four, which between them own 40% of all pharmacies. The Government’s position is that community pharmacists make a big contribution, but I repeat that the number of locations has increased by nearly 20% over the past decade, and each one gets £25,000 per annum just for being open and for being a pharmacy. One consequence is that we have seen a great deal of clustering, and 40% of pharmacies are within half a mile of three others. It is right that the Government look at that and make a judgment.