Fears over future of rural pharmacies

Huw Merriman SUS-150610-141957001
Huw Merriman SUS-150610-141957001

Rural communities could lose their local pharmacies if the government proceeds with proposals to save £163m in the NHS pharmacy budget.

MP Huw Merriman issued the warning in parliament last week after pharmacists voiced their concerns to him.

They said potential cuts in dispensing and annual fees, as well as increased costs from measures such as the national living wage, could threaten the future of their businesses.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Merriman said: “I wanted to ensure the views of local pharmacists, and my constituents who use them, were given a voice to their fears of closure.

“I understand the need to look at savings but I asked the government minister to consider if these could be better targeted on those pharmacies which are in clusters rather than in rural areas where the next pharmacy could be many miles away.

“The minister assured me that he would consider my proposals before a final decision is taken.”

Mr Merriman said, while he accepted the need for savings, these could be better delivered by looking at other areas, such as the amount wasted on drugs thrown away due to over-prescribing.

Nigel Harwood, owner of the Ticehurst Pharmacy, said the proposed cuts left him in a difficult position.

“You have to assume that everyone will face a cut of six per cent” he said.

He added the lack of clarity and information in the proposals cast doubt over the viability of remaining open and he feared he may have ‘to make a member of staff redundant’.

Mr Harwood said the proposals do not acknowledge the difference between rural and urban pharmacies, nor do they acknowledge the advice and support such pharmacies offer to their local community, to the extent where patients often become friends.

If Ticehurst Pharmacy closed, the nearest alternative would be 3.4 miles away in Wadhurst.

Penny Woodgate, business support manager for the East Sussex Local Pharmaceutical Committee, stressed it was a ‘blanket cut’ which could affect both town and rural community pharmacies.

“Community pharmacies are a valuable and valued resource,” she said.

“As well as dispensing medicines, community pharmacy teams help people to stay well and out of the GPs surgery, to get the most benefit from their medicines, and to manage their health conditions.”

The government has indicated it will target pharmacies less than a ten-minute walk from each other.

However, this could still put a quarter of pharmacies at risk.

“The implications for patient care have not been properly considered and may be damaging,” said Ms Woodgate.

Measures to increase efficiency in pharmacies are not new, with increased centralisation and automation in the dispensing and delivery of repeat prescriptions in recent years.

Though Mr Harwood has operated under a similar system for over a decade he said the continued drive for efficiency and cost savings is ‘devaluing the customer and patient relationship’ with pharmacists.

The consultation period for the proposals ends on March 24 with a decision to be made in April and, if approved, implemented in October.

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