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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
MPs defend threatened pharmacies
Small pharmacies felt threatened by the proposed changes
A controversial report calling for more competition in the pharmacy trade has been blasted by a committee of MPs.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report published earlier this year called for restrictions on where new pharmacies could open to be lifted.

They said it could mean that customers got a better deal - but many small pharmacies said the changes would sound the death knell for their businesses.

They predicted that out-of-town supermarkets would take the opportunity to open more in-store pharmacies, forcing the closure of thousands of smaller chemists.

Now the health select committee at the House of Commons has weighed in to support the small pharmacies after reviewing the report during a swift inquiry.

'Unacceptable situation'

Chairman David Hinchliffe MP said that small pharmacies saved the NHS large sums of money by offering valuable advice to customers.

"Anyone who has had contact with a good community pharmacy, for example, knows what a vital source of advice such a centre can be.

"Community pharmacies are increasingly a key provider within the NHS, a role that is likely to grow as time goes by.

"It has become clear to us that the recommendations of the OFT report have the potential to make certain pharmacies unviable, potentially leaving some of the most vulnerable communities, who have the greatest health needs and are least able to travel long distances, without any local pharmacy provision, a situation which would be unacceptable."

He said that the committee felt that the OFT had "singularly failed" to see the "bigger picture".

'Fast and loose'

The intervention of the select committee was welcomed by the National Pharmaceutical Association, which represents small pharmacies.

A spokesman said: "We are very pleased to see the committee has recognised the clear deficiencies in the OFT report and the need to view the report in the context of pharmacy's current and developing NHS role.

"We have consistently highlighted to government and stakeholders the risks associated with 'playing fast and loose' with the current arrangements."

Ministers have yet to decide whether to incorporate any of the OFT's recommendations into a revamp of the laws governing pharmacy provision in the UK.


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