The contract application appeals process needs to be more thorough to allow proper presentation of cases, healthcare lawyers have argued.
More pharmacy applications under appeal should get an oral hearing, rather than being decided on a paper basis, said law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.
Its comments came in response to the 2013-14 annual report of the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which determines the outcome of pharmacy contract applications that are appealed after an initial decision by NHS England. The report revealed that the NHSLA dealt with 94 per cent of 2013-14 appeals "on the papers without additional external input".
Charles Russell Speechlys praised the NHSLA's 15-week timetable for deciding appeals as "commendable" but questioned "the paucity of oral hearings".
It was "fair enough", due to cost, that not every appeal went to oral hearing, senior healthcare partner David Reissner told C+D. However, "many cases" would benefit from the site visit this more in-depth process entails. "There will be many cases where in my view it isn't possible to make a decision without an oral hearing," he said.
"The whole point is that people are entitled to have the application dealt with properly and fairly."
The firm added: "Quite apart from the question [of] whether issues of access can properly be resolved by reading papers and looking at maps, the losing party may often feel they have not had a proper opportunity to put their case."
The NHSLA said in its annual report that it had made "significant changes" and undertaken "targeted training" of staff to ensure "effective decision-making" under changes to pharmacy application rules brought in under last year's NHS reforms.