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Campaigning - Save our dispensing surgeries

Protest against pharmacy application gathers momentum, writes Alan Kennedy.

Sir Menzies Campbell MP has pledged his support
Sir Menzies Campbell MP has pledged his support

The battle to save the Scottish dispensing practice threatened with closure due to an approved local application for a commercial pharmacy, is entering its final stage. The practice's appeal will be heard on 15 December, after which there appears to be no further method of challenging the decision.

Since the news in August that Fife Pharmacy Practices Committee had approved the opening of a pharmacy in the rural Scottish community of Leuchars, patients have been campaigning for the decision to be overturned.

Two public meetings held were attended by so many members of the Balmullo and Leuchars communities that there was standing-room only: the doors had to be closed for safety reasons and many people were unable to get in, particularly at the Leuchars event.

In addition to a paper from the applicants (who did not attend in person), defending their case for a pharmacy, representations were made by the doctors from the practice threatened with closure. I also made a brief contribution, updating the audience on the latest position of my Scottish Parliament Petition 1220, which seeks to bring about a fairer system for applications such as these.

I urged all those present to write, email or phone the appropriate authorities to register their views on the Leuchars decision; in this, I was supported by Sir Menzies Campbell MP, MSP Iain Smith and local Fife councillor Tim Brett, all of whom pledged to relay the mood of the meeting to local health authorities without delay.

Since then, patients have increased their level of protest. Nine local residents, including the chairs of two local community councils, have formed a focus group, naming it 'SODS' (Save Our Dispensing Surgeries) to attract public attention.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing has instructed the Primary and Community Care Directorate to invite SODS to be involved in the consultation process, leading up to the review of the current Scottish Pharmacy Regulations.

Balmullo and Leuchars patients will have much to contribute, given their experiences over the past 12 months: this current pharmacy threat is the second they have had to fight in this period. Local people are angry that the process has dragged on so long as the first application (almost identical to this one) was resoundingly rejected on appeal in the spring of this year.

Press coverage helps keep the matter high profile and our local and regional television and newspapers have provided balanced coverage. A SODS website (www.patientsods.co.uk) has also been launched and will be developed as the group gains expertise and support.

One of the most important aims of SODS is to ensure that the local communities, served by the two surgeries, are made fully aware that their thousands of written and petition protests do not go forward to the second application appeal process.

This requires them to submit their protests all over again (by early December at latest), illustrating yet another deficiency in the poorly constructed regulations as they currently stand.

Local community councils
SODS works with local community councils to develop a joint letter which will be sent to the National Appeal Panel. Members also picketed the Area Health Boards' meeting in Cupar on 26 October and gave members protest leaflets as they arrived.

The group will assist communities whose GP dispensing surgeries are under threat from the commercialism driving forward pharmacy applications; SODS is offering support to the threatened Tarves practice in Aberdeenshire where three dispensing surgeries may be affected.

Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that there may be a change of mindset in the Scottish Governments review. In a recent speech at the SNP Conference in Inverness, she stated that the SNP had 'invested taxpayers' money to build up the NHS and not to build up the private sector'.

Commercial pharmacies replacing dispensing practices does equate to building up the private sector as profits made are not visibly channelled into improving communities' healthcare services. Commercial pharmaceutical enterprises must return a profit to exist, but doing so to the detriment of local medical services is a step too far.

However, the result of the appeal is anxiously awaited, by practice doctors, their staff threatened by closure and their patients, who will lose out heavily if the pharmacy is allowed to open its doors.

Meanwhile, it behoves everyone who believes that the pharmacy application system is both unfair in process, and democratically flawed in execution, to voice their concerns.

  • For previous coverage of the Leuchars pharmacy application, search 'Leuchars' on healthcarerepublic.com
  • Mr Kennedy is a patient at the Leuchars and Balmullo Village Surgeries and initiator of Scottish Parliamentary Petition 1220

Key aim of 'Save Our Dispensing Surgeries' (SODS)

  • Raising public awareness about the pharmacy application and its potential impact on the local community.
  • Requesting local people to re-submit their protestations, which cannot be carried over from the previous application.
  • Advising other communities, whose vital GP dispensing surgeries are under threat from pharmacy applications.

Key Questions

  • Why are Balmullo and Leuchars patients facing a second approved pharmacy application that mirrors the first which was emphatically refused?
  • Why do doctors have to fight for surgery dispensing services which their patients have clearly stated they want to retain and which have already been recorded as perfectly satisfactory by Fife NHS' Pharmacy Practices Committee?
  • Why have our local doctors been distracted from the real job of looking after their patients for more than a year now?
  • What is being done to prevent the current position being repeated in a third pharmacy application?


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