RURAL communities are to be handed new powers to oppose the opening of pharmacies on their doorsteps following rows in which GPs quit after chemists moved in to their territory.
The rule changes, announced by the Scottish Government yesterday, follow several unpopular decisions by health boards to allow pharmacies to open in remote areas, meaning local GP practices lose the right to dispense. There are more than 100 dispensing surgeries and doctors have argued the income generated is essential to providing sustainable primary care services to small communities.
The changes to legislation, due to come into force next month, follow a consultation on the issue in which Government proposals were backed by the majority of respondents, including health boards, but were overwhelmingly opposed by pharmacy contractors that included Asda, Boots, the Co-operative Pharmacy, the Deans Pharmacy and Davidsons chemist chains.
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From June 28, communities will have more of a say in applications through an overhauled consultation, with a community representative entitled to offer views to decision makers. Crucially, health boards will also be given the power to throw applications out if they would seem to threaten the security and sustainability of GP services. Previously, NHS boards had claimed their hands were tied by legislation.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: "In recent years there has been understandable concern from communities in rural and remote areas about the impact that the opening of a new pharmacy might have on their local GP services.
"The new arrangements are intended to promote stability of GP and pharmaceutical services in rural areas, while also ensuring local communities across Scotland have adequate access to a qualified pharmacist."
In Millport on Great Cumbrae, the NHS has been left to pick up a £50,000-a-month bill for locums after permanent GPs quit more than a year ago when a pharmacy was allowed to open in the area.
Dr Jennifer Foster, who has served Drymen in Stirlingshire for 20 years, announced earlier this month she was to quit as a result of a pharmacy winning approval.
A pharmacy application has been approved in Aberfoyle despite strong opposition.
Dr Anne Lindsay, GP at the Aberfoyle practice, said she was delighted with yesterday's announcement, but admitted it was "bittersweet". An appeal has been lodged by the practice, although the previous rules will apply. "These things would have made such a difference to us when the application in our area was in," she said. "But I'm absolutely delighted for the other dispensing practices in Scotland as it should make an enormous difference."
A spokeswoman for Community Pharmacy Scotland said: "We hope the regulations can continue to demonstrate a robust and fair process is applied in all health boards for all stakeholders, ensuring the adequate provision of pharmaceutical care services across the country."