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Caithness News Bulletins March 2003

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3 March 03

The proposed deregulation of pharmacy services, which will allow businesses, such as supermarkets, to dispense NHS prescriptions, is seen as a threat to the viability of some of the 44 community pharmacies in the Highlands. Highland Councillors are to write to the Scottish Executive highlighting the potential impact on community pharmacies of competition, which is being consulted upon by the Office of Fair Trading.

They stress that in rural areas, such as Highland, the main users of community pharmacies are patients not consumers and that the special circumstances of the area must be taken into account before the deregulation is confirmed.  In a letter to the Executive, the Council states: In the Highlands, many pharmacies, particularly those in rural or deprived areas, operate on the edge of viability and are reliant on the income generated by the NHS service they provide.

"If supermarkets in Highland were able to dispense NHS prescriptions it is likely that local closures would result, and supermarkets cannot give the same geographical coverage that we have at present. Residents in the remote and rural areas will potentially see their local pharmacy close, as many of these outlets are heavily dependent on the NHS side of their business.  "Even if the outlet were not to close, destabilising pharmacy services could well mean that in order to achieve financial viability, pharmacists may come under pressure to put profit margins before patient care. This would hamper a pharmacys ability to provide services such as free delivery/postage to people with transport and/or mobility difficulties. In either case, people living in such communities would suffer a diminished service. Even in the urban areas of Highland, however, there is concern about the potential impact of deregulation, as again many pharmacies are currently operating close to the limits of financial viability.

"Community pharmacies provide a wide range of other related services (free postage/delivery of prescriptions, general independent health advice, health promotion etc.) which they would not be in a position to provide if there was a reduction in their profitability. Supermarkets, which are driven by profit, would be unlikely to provide these services. The impact of a change in service provision would fall primarily on those most in need of the service: the elderly, housebound, people with long term illness or addictions.