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Swindon pharmacy saved as NHS rules former Rowlands site should re-open

NHS Resolutions has approved an application to re-open a former Rowlands branch in Swindon, despite objections from both Rowlands and Boots. 

The NHS litigation authority supported NHS England’s (NHSE) decision to allow a pharmacist to re-open a pharmacy in Rodbourne Road, Swindon that was previously owned by Rowlands, it wrote in a decision published last week (November 1).

A Rowlands spokesperson confirmed to C+D that the multiple is considering its options. See its full response below.

Rowlands initially asked NHSE to consolidate its two pharmacies in the area. However, NHSE shut this bid down in July 2021 on the basis that it would create a gap in the provision of pharmaceutical services.

Despite local outcry, the multiple closed its branch following NHSE’s decision in Swindon in October 2021. Patients were instead directed to a different Rowlands pharmacy nearby.

The multiple then attempted to block the re-opening of the pharmacy earlier this year by appealing to NHS Resolutions.

In response to the appeal – Boots also voiced objections to the re-opening of the branch in May on the grounds that it believed there was no “requirement” for another pharmacy in the area.


NHS Resolution: No detriment to existing pharmaceutical services


In its decision letter – published following a hearing held on September 2 – NHS Resolutions confirmed it had “considered whether the granting of the application would cause significant detriment” to the provision of pharmaceutical services in the area.

The NHS Resolutions committee “is not satisfied that it would”, it confirmed.

The committee determined that “there is not already a reasonable choice with regard to obtaining pharmaceutical services”. 

There is also no evidence of “people sharing a protected characteristic having difficulty in accessing pharmaceutical services” and “no evidence that innovative approaches would be taken with regard to the delivery of pharmaceutical services”, it added.

Read more: Boots backs up Rowlands’ objection to reopening of Swindon pharmacy

“Having taken these matters into account, the committee is satisfied that granting the application would confer significant benefits…that would secure improvements or better access to pharmaceutical services,” NHS Resolutions confirmed.

Citing Swindon Borough Council’s Swindon Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment (2018-2021), which considers pharmacy provision across Swindon, NHS Resolutions noted that Swindon was “under-provided for in terms of number of pharmacies when compared to the national average”.

With 19 pharmacies per 100,000 people, Swindon falls below the national average of 21 per 100,000 and mirrors the 19 per 100,000 seen in the south west.


Rowlands: Pharmacy presence “undermines economic viability” of nearby pharmacies


A spokesperson for Rowlands told C+D today: “We regret that our appeal has been unsuccessful.”

However, the multiple remains “convinced that local pharmaceutical needs can be addressed without the need for a pharmacy in Rodbourne Road”, they added.

“The reality is continuing a pharmacy presence at Rodbourne Road undermines the economic viability of other nearby pharmacies, not just Rowlands in Park Lane but other pharmacies, too,” they said.

Read more: 'Merge and close arrangements don't give the certainty pharmacy craves, as a recent Rowlands case shows'

The multiple is considering its options, the spokesperson confirmed.

“Nobody wants to see pharmacy closures, but unless there is more government investment, that is the outcome,” they added.

A recent answer from the government to a parliamentary question tabled by the MP Helen Morgan shows that cumulatively since 2019, taking inflation into account, the government has effectively reduced pharmacy funding by £790 million, the spokesperson told C+D.

“The community pharmacy sector is being underfunded by the English government, which has resulted in a network that is no longer economically viable, hence the closures and mergers we have seen in recent years,” they added.


How did we get here?


In June 2021, Rowlands’ plans to merge its two Swindon pharmacies were halted temporarily following protests by locals and local councillors, who voiced concerns over the accessibility of the remaining branch.

However, the NHSE south west region ultimately deemed the planned closure of the Rodbourne Road branch “a business decision, entirely in the hands of the owners and permitted under pharmacy regulations”.

In September 2021, a pharmacist applied to NHSE to keep the branch open, offering to open on Saturday mornings – when, under Rowlands management, the pharmacy was closed.

In October 2021, Rowlands shut the Rodbourne Road branch, instead directing its customers to another of its branches, which sits just “788 metres away” on Park Lane.

A pharmacist’s application was granted by NHSE in January, but Rowlands appealed this decision on February 23.

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