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Government ‘finalising’ hub-and-spoke consultation response

Neil O’Brien has said that a government response to its hub-and-spoke consultation will be published “as soon as possible”, but a wholesaler representative has predicted that changes will not come into force "this side of a general election”.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) is “finalising” its response to its 2022 consultation on amending legislation on hub-and-spoke dispensing to accommodate all pharmacies, according to pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien.

At present, the law only allows the hub-and-spoke model to be used between businesses owned by the same company. 

Read more: DH launches long-awaited pharmacy hub-and-spoke dispensing consultation

But in March 2022, the DH launched a long-awaited consultation on changes to hub-and-spoke dispensing legislation, with submissions closing in June that year.

Among other proposals, the DH asked for views on removing the restrictions that prevent hub-and-spoke models from being used by all pharmacies.

Read more: Yorkshire pharmacy chain rebrands after acquisition by hub-and-spoke company

In a written response to a parliamentary question last month (September 11), Mr O’Brien said that the DH is “finalising” its consultation response, with an “aim” to publish this and its timetable for implementation “as soon as possible”.

He added that the government is committed to making a “level playing field” for all pharmacies.

However, Mr O’Brien warned that implementation would be “dependent on the availability of parliamentary time” in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Wholesalers’ view on hub-and-spoke


In August, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) Martin Sawer told C+D in an exclusive interview that the proposed hub-and-spoke changes required “political will” and predicted that they would not be put into effect “this side of the next general election”.

Mr Sawer said that opening hub-and-spoke to all pharmacies would be a “big shift” for smaller pharmacies.

He raised concerns about “quality control” under the hub-and-spoke model, noting that the hubs would be regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and not the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), like wholesaler members of the HDA.

Read more: ‘The DH’s hub-and-spoke dispensing consultation remains silent on key areas’

Mr Sawer said that the MHRA has “strict standards” for distribution practice and temperature control, adding that the HDA does not believe that distance selling pharmacies - which operate similarly to hub-and-spoke - were “subject to the same regulatory environment”.

He warned that this regulatory split would not be a “level playing field” and questioned whether manufacturers would be “comfortable” with their product being housed in hub pharmacy warehouses that are not regulated in the same way as medicines wholesalers.


Hub-and-spoke so far


It follows the publication of NHS England’s (NHSE) long term workforce plan in June, which predicted that an increase in hub-and-spoke dispensing - modelled at 2% a year - would “reduce the time” that pharmacy teams spend supplying medicines.

Responding to the plan at the time, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), noted that hub-and-spoke would not only require legislative changes, but also “significant investment” to make the model “financially viable” for pharmacy owners.

Read more: CCA boss: Hub and spoke ‘one way’ to help solve pharmacy workforce crisis

C+D reported in January that the DH was working on “changes” to the medicine supply chain including its consultations on hub-and-spoke.

And last October, Company Chemists' Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison said that hub-and-spoke dispensing models may prove “one way to release capacity” for pharmacists facing staffing pressures.

Catch up on C+D’s Big Debate which asked: Could a hub-and-spoke model ever truly work for independent pharmacies?

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