FAMILY doctors in a rural Scottish practice are leading an appeal against a new pharmacy, warning it would lead to the loss of a GP and force elderly patients to travel miles to collect a prescription.
The doctors at the GP surgery in Killin, Stirlingshire, believe the practice will lose vital income from its in-house drug dispensary service if an application to open a pharmacy in the premises of a former gift shop in the village gets the go-ahead.
A public meeting organised by the doctors and chaired by Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford closed with "overwhelming opposition" from 400 members of the community to the proposal.
The practice, which has three GPs and 1650 patients, covers a 300sq mile area, with the doctors making house calls as far away as 25 miles from Killin. The nearest hospital, the Forth Valley Royal in Larbert, is one and a half hours away by car.
Under NHS rules, if Perthshire-based Davidsons Chemists is granted permission the surgery will have to close its drug dispensary service within a year, with the loss of its dispensary staff and additional income used to fund its third GP and extra services for patients.
The GPs fear their patients, many of them elderly, will face a huge inconvenience if they have to travel to the pharmacy in Killin to collect medication instead of their GP being able to hand it over in a home visit.
They have until early January to respond to the public consultation before the final decision passes to NHS Forth Valley.
Dr Elizabeth Watson, a GP partner, said: "Many of our patients are elderly and don't drive, so they're going to be stuck unless they have someone to take them to and from a pharmacy. Once the dispensary is gone you can't get it back.
"I've been there a year and I've got a young family, but my husband has had to take time off to help out at home because I've been working so much. We're in the surgery until 8pm and in at weekends. I've got 13 house calls to do on Monday. We're already overstretched – losing one of the GPs would be adisaster."
When the NHS was established, GPs operating in rural areas where no separate pharmacy service was available were allowed to set up dispensing services, with some topping up the practice income by hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
However, dozens of dispensing doctor practices have become embroiled in turf wars as pharmacies opening on their doorsteps have put an end to their in-house drugs service.
Only two GP practices, in Drymen and Aberfoyle, have so far successfully appealed against pharmacy applications to date.
Rural dispensing practices in England and Wales are protected against the opening of a pharmacy in their area if they have fewer than 2750 patients.
Bruce Crawford, SNP MSP for Stirling, whose constituency includes Drymen and Aberfoyle, said he believed there was a strong case against the application, though he has arranged to meet with representatives of Davidsons Chemists.
He said: "There is real concern among the community about the potential loss of a GP as well as additional services and the associated travel problems.
"I think the GPs have a good case and if their information is correct, which I've no reason to doubt it is, I think they've got a good case against it opening."
Allan Gordon, managing director of Davidsons, said: "When doctors scream and shout, people tend to listen – whether that's right or wrong.
"But the point is there are regulations which make clear that where a pharmacy can exist it is preferable and safer than a doctors' dispensary. If we are lucky enough to have our application approved we intend to provide the highest possible healthcare to the community."