The dedication and professionalism of pharmacy staff has been clear, if I may say so, to see during the coronavirus pandemic.  Over this unbelievably harrowing period, you, ladies and gentlemen have kept vulnerable people supplied with medicines, played a key part in the N.H.S. vaccination programme. You supported testing and have been a vital source of healthcare advice to millions of people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very glad to welcome you here today for this celebration of community pharmacy, and of all those dedicated people who work in the sector to support the nation’s health.  I really am delighted that so many of you, somehow, have been able to join me for this special occasion. Apart from anything else, an opportunity rather belatedly because of the pandemic to mark your centenary, which of course was just last year, we couldn’t do anything properly in person. So this is a rather inadequate way, I hope, in making up for that. 

The dedication and professionalism of pharmacy staff has been clear, if I may say so, to see during the coronavirus pandemic.  Over this unbelievably harrowing period, you, ladies and gentlemen have kept vulnerable people supplied with medicines, played a key part in the N.H.S. vaccination programme. You supported testing and have been a vital source of healthcare advice to millions of people.

As well as your great achievements during that extraordinary time, I really am deeply conscious of your efforts in ordinary times too.  For that reason, I very much hope that this evening’s event will help, a little bit, to highlight the marvellous work you do in your communities day in and day out. And I know during the pandemic many of you had to stay open until 10 o’clock at night, so you are a remarkable resource if I may say so.

And, if I may also say so, it is truly inspiring to know that this gathering includes people from so many of the different backgrounds that make up the pharmacy workforce today.  Yours may be an ancient profession, but it certainly reflects modern Britain in all its splendid diversity. 

Woven into the history of community pharmacy are thousands of individual stories about immigration into the United Kingdom and how people from overseas have built a life here.  Now, in their turn, they are not only providing pharmaceutical care to British communities, but also to those who have recently been displaced from other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Europe and Africa. 

It really is hugely important to me that pharmacists from all parts of the United Kingdom are represented here this evening, so I can at least thank you on behalf of people right across the country; because you really are an absolutely vital service for everybody.

Now last year, I was very pleased to help the National Pharmacy Association mark your centenary.  So I know that your sector has experienced enormous changes – from the formation of the N.H.S. in 1948 – and I am fully aware of how old it is as I was born that year! – though I think I’m in a worse state than the NHS! –  to an overhaul of medicines regulations in 1968, a massive expansion in the range of medicines available to patients and the establishment of new roles in public health, urgent care and managing long term conditions.  You continue, ladies and gentlemen, to innovate and adapt to the rapidly evolving needs of patients and the N.H.S., and this includes developing your skills as prescribers, which seems to me of critical importance.

At the same time, you are a very familiar fixture in the nation’s high streets and neighbourhoods – something that people have come to rely on and value tremendously over generations.  As well as providing prompt access to advice and treatment, of course the great thing is you are also a friendly and reassuring presence in our communities.  A place where science, as it were, meets society.

As I have said once before, pharmacies are about people and places, not just pills.  This has come across very clearly from the conversations I have had this evening.  So, above all, I want to thank you all more than I can possibly say for everything you do, so brilliantly, to keep people well and above all to save lives.  

Thank you everybody.