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Time to rally round dispensing practices

Dispensing GPs may have assumed things couldn't get any worse.

Dispensing GPs may have assumed things couldn't get any worse.

They are already the Government's least favourite health professionals, if the pharmacy white paper is anything to go by. Up to 700 practices face losing their lucrative dispensing rights under the Department of Health's plans.

But if that weren't headache enough, the pharmacist professional body is now calling for a tough new regulatory regime after branding dispensing practices as 'unsafe'. Pharmacists, it seems, are intent not only on kicking dispensing GPs while they are down, but gloating all the way to the funeral.

Jealous glances

Now it must be admitted that not all non-dispensing GPs will be automatically sympathetic. Dispensing GPs have not always felt able to bask in a sense of solidarity from all quarters of the profession, which is perhaps why they have been left so vulnerable to attack.

It doesn't help that dispensing partners earn nearly a quarter more than their non-dispensing counterparts, which is always going to prompt a mixture of jealous glances and awkward questions.

Then there are the persistent rumours over the costs of prescribing at dispensing practices, which continue to flare up from time to time, despite lacking the oxygen of hard fact.

Dodgy ground

So dispensing GPs may struggle to win a popularity contest - but unsafe?

It is hard not to conclude that pharmacists are getting a touch too big for their boots. It's surprising enough that one profession would aim such an accusation at another at all, but particularly so because the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain does so without the tiniest scrap of evidence to support its claim. Comparative statistics for patient complaints, prescription error rates and adverse events are all glaringly conspicuous by their absence from its consultation response on the white paper.

Pharmacists are on doubly dodgy ground here because their own record on patient safety is so insecure. It was only a couple of months ago that Which? castigated pharmacies for providing inaccurate and potentially dangerous advice to patients. Study after study has shown medicines use reviews add little to patient care and at least one trial has suggested they could even raise the risk of mortality.

There is no great benefit in setting pharmacists and GPs at each other's throats. But neither can non-dispensing GPs sit back and watch as their colleagues are maligned.

Pharmacists are making a concerted effort to secure a virtual monopoly of the dispensing market. If they are allowed to win this battle, further victories will inevitably follow.

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