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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Plans to boost pharmacy numbers
Chemist counter
There may be more competition between pharmacies
Plans to encourage a huge rise in the number of chemists have been unveiled by ministers.

They include plans to ease the setting up of internet and mail order pharmacies if customers want them.

Small pharmacies say they could be driven out of business if competitors are allowed to open up in supermarkets and shopping centres.

However, the government says that changes in lifestyles mean that easier access to pharmacies is essential.

Currently there are strict rules which can stop new pharmacies opening up within a certain distance of existing chemists.

Expansion call

However, a report from the Office of Fair Trading in January suggest that more chemists would drive down the prices of "over the counter" medicines - saving customers an estimated 30 million a year.

Changes in lifestyle, work and shopping patterns mean that many patients and consumers choose to visit larger shopping developments
Consultation document
The new proposals, released in a consultation document from the Department of Health, will place the responsibility on Primary Care Trusts - which administer health services such as GP surgeries for a town or district - to decide whether new pharmacies are justified.

They also suggest removing restrictions on pharmacies wishing to open in large shopping centres.

The consultation says: "Changes in lifestyle, work and shopping patterns mean that many patients and consumers choose to visit larger shopping developments.

"They may find there is no or only one NHS pharmacy contractor available within such a development."

Closure fear

The National Pharmaceutical Association has previously said that the moves could lead to the closure of many small pharmacies.

On Friday, a spokesman said: "Our core concern has been to protect neighbourhood community pharmacies that patients value so much - and which provide such real benefits for local communities and the NHS."

Our core concern has been to protect neighbourhood community pharmacies that patients value so much
Spokesman, National Pharmaceutical Association
However, it welcomed the opportunity to work with individual primary care trusts on the issue.

Health minister Rosie Winterton, launching the consultation paper, said: "Our prime driving force in this is to put the needs of patients first.

"I want to encourage innovation and excellence in pharmacy provision for all so that community pharmacy is recognised as a key player in the provision of NHS services.

"I believe this best achieved where competition provides strong incentives and levers to deliver those improvementsthrough an increased competitive retail environment."

Members of the public now have 12 weeks to take part in the consultation.


SEE ALSO:
Head to head: Chemist reform
17 Jan 03  |  UK News


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