Asda and Community Pharmacies (UK), which specialises in setting up pharmacies in GP practices, led the rush to make last-minute 100-hour pharmacy applications, a C+D investigation has found.
The two companies were together responsible for more than a quarter of the applications made during the nine-month government consultation on scrapping the 100-hour rule between November 2011 and July 2012, an FOI request submitted to 146 PCTs across England revealed.
Asda and Community Pharmacies (UK) put in an average of two 100-hour applications a week during the consultation period
More on 100-hours
Within the 87 PCTs that responded to C+D, Asda and pharmacist-led Community Pharmacies (UK) each put in 81 applications – two a week – to open 100-hour pharmacies over the period.
This was 29 per cent of the total 553 applications. And the big four supermarket chains – Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons – together represented 24 per cent of the total applications.
The 100-hour pharmacy exemption had "changed the face of pharmacy" and there was still "a lot more pain to come" for contractors, warned the Independent Pharmacy Federation (IPF).
If the Community Pharmacies (UK) applications all came to fruition, this could put a further strain on GP-pharmacist relations, it said, as GPs gave patients "subtle encouragement" to pick up their prescriptions on the premises.
"I think we're going to see an impact on pharmacists as a result of these openings. It's very poor in terms of the relationship between GPs and pharmacists," IPF chief executive Claire Ward told C+D.
Pharmacist contractor Mike Hewitson of Beaminster Pharmacy, Dorset, was concerned by the "massive abuse potential" in setting up pharmacies in GP practices. One surgery pharmacy had converted a number of patients from 100-day prescriptions to 28-day intervals, he reported.
"Why should prescription intervals change based on commercial imperatives?" he asked. "Conflict of interest is massive."
When it came to supermarket pharmacies, Mr Hewitson said they could be a "good thing" in certain areas, but stressed that companies should not make "blanket applications" that undermined local pharmacy businesses.
Kevin Cottrell, general manager of SG Court Group, said he had seen supermarket pharmacies have a "big effect" on local contractors. "We've had an Asda open up near one of our pharmacies and it's taken away probably about 10 per cent of our business," he told C+D.
But Asda superintendent John Evans argued that the exemption had also served to boost the independent sector. He said the 100-hour exemption had helped Asda increase its number of pharmacies from 95 to 253 over the past eight years, but had also presented an opportunity for pharmacists to start up their own business.
"For young pharmacists, that was the only route they had [to ownership]," he told C+D. "I think multiples will now make up the vast majority of pharmacies in the UK and I don't think that's a good thing."
Nearly half of all 100-hour applications made over the period of C+D's FOI request came from independent parties.
Community Pharmacies (UK) declined to comment.
What is Community Pharmacies (UK)?
Community Pharmacies (UK) aims to set up pharmacies in partnership with GP surgeries to create a "new vision in integrated pharmacy services" and on its website it advertises its services specifically to GP partners, practice managers and consortium managers.
It put in 81 100-hour pharmacy applications between November 2011 and July 2012, concentrating in the south-east of England - 11 in Surrey, seven in Hampshire and five in the Kent and Medway cluster.
The company tended to put in speculative applications and, once agreed, approached GPs with the offer of a partnership, contractors told C+D. A preliminary consent application does not need a premises.
The company's director Andrew Murray was the founder of Assura Pharmacy, and is also the owner of consultancy business APM Healthcare, which sells pharmacy contracts and businesses. According to the APM Healthcare website, the company is "currently marketing a number of pharmacy contracts for sale".
How would you be affected if these 100-hour applications came to fruition?