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Pharmacy White paper - Dispensing GPs saved

There is good news, but more work needs to be done, says Dr Richard West.

Photograph: baber williams
Photograph: baber williams

As I'm sure you will know by now, it appears that dispensing is safe for the time being.

On 16 December, Phil Hope, the minister responsible for pharmacy made an announcement that eased the tension of dispensing doctors throughout England.

'We are analysing the responses received to the consultation in England and we will make an announcement on these wider issues as soon as possible in the New Year,' he said.

'But I am aware of the strength of responses we have received on the options for amending the criteria for dispensing by doctors. We have taken account of the views of those attending the listening events, and the meetings my officials have had with interested parties.

'Because of this, I have taken the decision there will be no change to the current arrangements for GPs dispensing medicines to their patients.'

One size does not fit all
It is important to realise that this welcome decision was made as a direct result of the enormous amount of effort put in by dispensing doctors.

The profession managed to build a consensus between itself, its patients, the pharmacists and a large number of politicians which made it very difficult for the government to oppose it.

I was surprised by how soon after the end of the consultation Mr Hope made his announcement. This is due to the number and range of people and organisations that responded to it; it is to the government's credit that ministers took note and acted on concerns.

However, we cannot now rest on our laurels as there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. The rest of the Pharmacy White Paper talks about the new roles that pharmacy is to take on over the next few years and we must make sure that patients in rural areas are able to access the same services as those who live in urban settings.

The announcement is recognition that 'one size does not fit all'. We need to work to ensure that everyone is able to access all the services they need, no matter where in the UK they live.

Delivery of care
The Pharmacy White Paper gives us an opportunity to look at the different services that dispensing practices provide for their patients in various locations and to reflect upon those services so that we can spread good practice across the whole of the country.

It is important that we use this process to provide our patients with all the services that they need in a manner that suits their location and the way in which they live their lives.

I feel that we now have an opportunity to scrutinise the Dispensary Quality Scheme and to improve it so that it continues to encourage practices to provide the best service to their dispensing patients, rewarding those that achieve this.

The road ahead
It must allow and encourage practices to find innovative solutions to problems related to delivering care to rural patients who are disadvantaged due to the rurality of their location; deprivation; or the medical condition they suffer.

I am hopeful the government will engage with us to improve the quality of the service that our patients receive; I am certain that dispensing practices will continue to rise to the challenge of providing safe, efficient and patient-centred services.

Dispensing practices are, and need to continue to be, integral to the communities they serve.

  • Dr Richard West is chair of the Dispensing Doctors Association.
  • Contact Sarah Wild at sarah.wild@haymarket.com or tel (020) 8267 4532.

Responses to the government's decision
Andrew Lansley, shadow Conservative health secretary: 'This is a massive U-turn from the government. For months, they refused to acknowledge calls from us, patients and GPs to allow doctors to retain the ability to dispense drugs. Had they gone ahead, there could have been disastrous consequences for patients in rural communities.'

Norman Lamb, shadow Liberal Democrat health secretary: 'At long last, common sense has prevailed. The government has finally listened to the concerns of people in rural areas but it would have been better if it had avoided raising the fears of large numbers of patients in the first place - many of whom are elderly. It is extraordinary that the government was working so hard to undermine a successful and well-liked service.'

Sue Sharpe, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee: 'PSNC's principal concern throughout has been to develop the pharmacy service as proposed in the Pharmacy White Paper, while continuing to foster productive collaboration between GPs and pharmacists.

'We were not surprised by the government's announcement today that they have decided not to change the arrangements for dispensing doctors. Dispensing doctors have argued in defence of the arrangements agreed between our two professions eight years ago. We have made it clear that we support the status quo. We acknowledge that dispensing by doctors remains necessary for some patients in rural areas for whom a pharmacy is not readily accessible - as we agreed back in 2000.'



The DDA is the only organisation that ensures the views of dispensing practices are heard by the government and key negotiating bodies. We also provide telephone advice to members and essential updated information via our website, and email alerts. To find out more call Jeff Lee on (01751) 430835 or visit www.dispensingdoctor.org

The DDA does not necessarily support or endorse the opinions or information contained on this page.

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