Rural GPs often provide drugs for their patients
Proposals to change the rules on which GP practices in England can provide drugs directly to their patients have been rejected by ministers.
Health Minister Phil Hope told MPs on Tuesday there would be "no change" to the current arrangements.
Rural doctors had campaigned against the changes, warning they threatened the future of GP dispensaries.
Many patients in rural communities are able to get prescription drugs from their GP, rather than a pharmacy.
But the Pharmacy White Paper - designed to increase the role chemists play in providing care for patients - included a number of options to reform the existing rules.
Under these, patients who live more than a mile from a chemist can choose to have their medicines dispensed by their GP.
The White Paper argued the system was expensive and raised 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.
The Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) argued 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.
Strength of response
Mr Hope said the decision to allow dispensing doctors to continue was as a result of the strength of responses to the consultation.
At Commons question time, Mr Hope said: "We are analysing the responses we have received to the consultation on pharmaceutical provision in England and we will be making an announcement on these wider issues as soon as possible in the New Year.
"However, I am aware of the strength of responses we have received on the various options for amending the criteria for dispensing by doctors.
"We have taken account of the views of those attending the listening events, the meetings and so on.
"Because of this I'm pleased to announce today that there will be no change to the current arrangements for GPs dispensing medicines to their patients."
Dr David Baker, of the DDA, said the decision was a "victory for common sense".
"Keeping the arrangements for dispensing by doctors will help us to build on the strong rapport that has been developed with pharmacy colleagues over recent years.
"This will allow both professions to concentrate on working more closely together to the benefit of all patients rather than expending energy and time on fighting a turf war, which would be in nobody's best interest."
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley described the decision as a "massive U-turn".
He said: "Had they gone ahead there could have been disastrous consequences for patients in rural communities.
"We welcome the government's decision, but they could have saved themselves, and the taxpayer, a lot of time and effort if they had listened to us in the first place."
Norman Lamb, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "At long last, common sense has prevailed."
Sue Sharpe, of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, welcomed the announcement, but said: "We also remain of the view that, wherever possible, the public should be able to receive their NHS prescription medicines from their local pharmacy."
There are 5,872 dispensing doctors in the UK in 1,365 practices. They look after more than 8 million patients, of whom 3.5 million are dispensing patients.