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Concern over pharmacies overhaul

PUBLISHED: 11:43 30 June 2008 | UPDATED: 20:45 05 July 2010

GP surgeries claim a radical overhaul of pharmacies could render some Norfolk doctors' dispensaries obsolete.

Their concern follows the publication of a government white paper that seeks to change the regulations regarding pharmacies and dispensaries at health centres.

GP surgeries claim a radical overhaul of pharmacies could render some Norfolk doctors' dispensaries obsolete.

Their concern follows the publication of a government white paper that seeks to change the regulations regarding pharmacies and dispensaries at health centres.

The bulk of the document, going out for consultation this summer, calls for the “untapped resource” of community pharmacies to become healthy living centres by 2011, offering treatment of minor ailments, health advice and tests and assessments to ease pressure on GPs.

But some of the proposals worry doctors who can dispense to patients living more than a mile from their surgeries. If plans contained within the paper come into effect, family doctors would only be able to dispense drugs if the surgery was at least one mile from the nearest chemist.

In Norfolk, 34 out of 95 practices have a dispensary, but NHS Norfolk could not confirm how many stood to be affected by if new rules came in. There are seven dispensing surgeries in the Yarmouth and Waveney PCT area.

Ian Hume, chairman of the local medical committee, which represents GPs, said the document had caused alarm, including at his practice, Parishfields, at Diss, which had at least two chemists just half a mile away.

“The effect on surgeries losing their ability to dispense medicines is that they may have to close down, there would be job losses and they would also lose an income stream which in many cases subsidises the practice to provide more frontline staff,” he said. “The British Medical Association and the pharmacies want to work together to improve services to patients. We feel the regulatory changes have the potential to disturb these procedures outside the large town.”

Ian Barker, practice manager at the Market Surgery at Aylsham, said it was most concerned about the impact on patients who would have to travel elsewhere rather than use a “one-stop shop”.

And Heathgate Medical Practice at Poringland, south of Norwich, has alerted patients in its newsletter and drafted a protest letter for them to send to South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon and the government.

Tony Dean, executive of the Norfolk Pharmaceutical Committee, said most of the 146-page white paper was tremendously positive but the issues had been clouded by a couple of pages on dispensing surgeries. He added: “The vast majority of the paper is about the future of pharmacies in terms of giving them more clinical services alongside GPs, to improve access to those services.

“Pharmacists train for five years and are an under-used resource at the moment, and it is estimated that GPs spend an hour every day dealing with problems that could be dealt with at community pharmacies.”

Ian Small, deputy head of prescribing at NHS Norfolk, said: “It is inevitable there will be winners and losers, but it is quite right that the dispensing issue is reviewed because it hasn't changed since 1948.”

The proposed changes could see up to 57 million consultations a year switching from GPs to pharmacists, bringing savings of £400m a year by 2011.

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