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Death-knell for our pharmacy?

The Office of Fair Trading now recommends that the NHS should no longer restrict the contracts it has with pharmacies and permit a free-for-all. The justification for this is patient choice, but of course this would achieve the very opposite.

The only people to benefit will be the shareholders of the giant chains, such as Unichem, Lloyds, Boots and Tesco who already dominate the lucrative market in NHS pharmaceutical services.

I must ask whether the OFT really believes in patient choice and improved services? If so, surely it should not stop at pharmacies but recommend all doctors be allowed to hold an NHS dispensing contract, as I do. Given a free choice I am sure all NHS patients would like to obtain their medicines from their doctors at the time and place of consultation.

At present instead of dispensing all necessary medicines to their patients, with perhaps a pharmacist as a pivotal member of the primary health care team, the majority of NHS GPs must issue handwritten prescriptions to be taken elsewhere.

This separation of prescribing and dispensing in time, place and person is antiquated, inefficient, inconvenient, time-consuming and costly both to the patient and to the NHS which must support the infrastructures for both GP surgeries and community pharmacies.

The current regulation of the NHS market was designed to protect rural GP practices (and of course independent community pharmacies) from predation by the pharmacy corporations.

As a rural GP and a dispensing doctor I was obliged to open and locate our own pharmacy within the surgery building in order to stay in practice. If one of the multiples was now to open an NHS pharmacy in our village this would signal the death-knell for our pharmacy and for the medical practice.

Dr Paul Thomas



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