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Pharmacy competition - A voice for GPs in pharmacy applications

Delays are hampering the petition process, writes Alan Kennedy.

E-Petition 1220, laid before the Scottish Parliament in November 2008, seeks to bring about fairness in the process in Scotland which covers commercial pharmacy applications affecting areas where there is already a GP dispensing practice.

Over the past months, I have written about the initial launch and early progress of this vital petition (GP, 19 February and 26 March) and would like to update dispensing doctors on its momentum. The petition's aim is to ensure that dispensing GPs and the public have a voice in Scotland's pharmacy application decision process.

Questions to parliament
Following the meeting of the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee on 3 March 2009, two questions were sent to the Scottish government for its response:

First, the Committee wished to know whether the Scottish government will revise the NHS (Pharmaceutical Services) Scotland Regulations 1995 to allow dispensing GPs to make direct representations to Pharmaceutical Committees when an application to open a pharmacy is made.

It also questioned whether the lack of any requirement to consult with all affected parties, including dispensing GPs and the public, is not at odds with the duty of care as conferred by the NHS Reform (Scotland) Act 2004 and what steps will the government take to rectify this anomaly.

These questions, in my opinion, very succinctly summed up the aims of my petition.

We now have the government's response in the form of a letter from the deputy director of the Primary and Community Care Directorate. This letter reiterates the present position regarding parties to be consulted about an application.

It states that the groups to be consulted to represent their views would be as follows: the Area Pharmaceutical Committee; any person whose name is included in the pharmaceutical list or provisional pharmaceutical list, and whose interests may be significantly affected if the application were granted; and any Board whose boundary is within two kilometres of the proposed premises.

This is in accordance with the 1995 regulations and comes as no surprise to any of us involved in this debate. The letter also states that, prior to 2005, the (now defunct) local health councils would also be consulted. The Scottish government is considering an amendment to this.

The letter further advises that ministers have called for advice from officials regarding comments and feedback on the responses from all those consulted, to date, on this petition. Ministers expect to respond to the Committee regarding proposed amendments to the regulations before the summer recess (due to begin on 27 June and lasting until 30 August).

Delaying tactics
All this might be expected to have a positive effect on bringing about early change, were it not for the simple fact that the views and representations of interested parties are already available to the government.

Prior to the Petitions Committee meeting in March, complete and well-researched evidence was provided by both the pharmaceutical bodies and those representing dispensing GPs.

More than 20 pages of detailed argument on the subject of commercial pharmacy applications lays out the pros and cons quite clearly and the Petitions Committee, having assessed that input, unanimously decided to raise the two questions referred to at the start of this article.

It would, therefore, be fair to conclude that the government response in seeking further input is little more than an ill-judged act of delay.

The petitions process allows me the right to respond to the government position and this I have done (see box).

Latest response to Scottish government

My response to the Scottish government's latest position

  • I am both saddened and disappointed that those who administer our community health services simply give no indication of recognising the glaring need for openness and trust in the consultation process at all levels.
  • Neither is there an obvious understanding that having a say in these matters is simply a basic human right which should not be denied to patients and their GPs. They, in the end, are the foremost interested parties of all.
  • At Westminster, the decision has already been taken to safeguard dispensing doctors due to the strength of public feeling against losing the services they provide. Scotland's public is no different in their regard of the dispensing GP services.
  • The response by the Community Care directorate shows that they still have no real understanding of the basic reality that the present pharmacy regulations are both unbalanced and unfair since they are weighted heavily against GPs and patients contributing to the decision process.
  • The two simple and direct questions raised by the petitions committee have not yet been answered by the government.

The Petitions Committee next meets on 2 June to discuss the government's response and my submission on it. The government may be hoping that this outstanding inequality in how our healthcare is decided will be overcome by minor tinkering at the edges of the regulations. That cannot be allowed to happen.

It is reasonable to expect that the committee will hold over the petition until the government has responded. It is therefore possible this matter will run on into the autumn of 2009.

I very much hope that pressure of opinion and a sense of doing the right thing in line with the NHS Reform Act (Scotland) will bring the government and, in particular, the Care Directorate, to amend the 1995 Regulations before then. I would ask dispensing GPs to contact their MSP and seek their support

This will ensure, by statute, that GPs and the public have a voice in the pharmacy application decision process.

  • Alan Kennedy is a patient at the Leuchars and Balmullo Village Surgeries in East Fife

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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