Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Sunday, 23 November 2008

Change to GP dispensing opposed

Rural GPs often provide drugs for their patients

Patients are opposed to any plans to reduce the ability of rural GPs in England to provide drugs directly to their patients, a poll suggests.

There are fears that plans laid out in a government White Paper will threaten the future of GP dispensaries.

The Dispensing Doctors Association surveyed more than 6,000 patients who currently get their drugs this way.

They found 95% would find it difficult or inconvenient if their surgery stopped dispensing.

The impact of proposed changes is at stark odds with the government's laudable ambition to personalise health service and improve choice and access to primary care
David Baker
Dispensing Doctors Association

The Pharmacy White Paper - designed to increase the role chemists play in providing care for patients - includes a number of options to reform the existing rules which govern dispensing by doctors.

Currently, patients who live more than a mile from a chemist can choose to have their medicines dispensed by their GP.

But the White Paper says the current system is expensive and raises the idea of scrapping or modifying the distance rule, in favour of giving more power to local primary care trusts (PCTs) to decide which practices should dispense drugs.

One option is to prevent a GP from providing a dispensing service if there are two pharmacies within a specific distance.

Destabilisation fears

The Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) argues that any change to the system would destabilise more than 700 GP practices, mainly in rural areas, which dispense drugs directly to their patients.

This would result in job losses and service cut-backs, with millions of patients denied a choice over where to get their drugs, and other services - such as home visits - threatened, the DDA says.

The poll also found that half of households which get drugs directly from their GP include at least one person over the age of 65, and one in six include at least one disabled person.

William Barribal is registered with the Okehampton practice in Devon.

He has rheumatoid arthritis and cares for his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease, full time.

He said: "We live three miles from the GP practice, the chemists is a further half a mile away on a very steep hill where parking is almost impossible.

"I can't be away from home for long, or I need to organise specialist care for my wife.

"The additional journey would make the collection of a prescription both arduous and time-consuming."

David Baker, DDA chief executive, said: "All patients deserve a health service that is safe and efficient, but also convenient and stress-free.

"The impact of proposed changes is at stark odds with the government's laudable ambition to personalise health service and improve choice and access to primary care."

Cross party support

The DDA campaign for the status quo to be maintained has received the backing of MPs from across the political spectrum.

Shadow health minister Mark Simmonds said: "If dispensing practices lose the ability to dispense due to the location of a pharmacy nearby then many patients could lose access to their most convenient service.

"It is important that dispensing practices use the additional income to provide the maximum enhancement of services to patients."

John Grogan, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Departmental Committee for Health and Social Services, said: "I know from representing the most rural Labour constituency in England that the dispensing doctors offer an essential service to many of my constituents, which should not in any way be threatened."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the government had no preferred route for reform.

"We will look at any changes only in the light of wider proposals to reform the way in which PCTs control market entry."

There are 5,872 dispensing doctors in the UK in 1,365 practices. They look after more than eight million patients, of whom 3.5 million are dispensing patients.

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