Contractors have renewed warnings that patients in rural areas could be denied access to pharmaceutical services, as the Scottish government prepares to bring in new regulations on pharmacy applications.
The regulations, which were announced on Friday (May 30), will give rural communities increased power over pharmacy applications. They will introduce a ‘prejudice test' that could see health boards in these areas turn down applications if they adversely impact on existing primary healthcare services.
Scottish contractors warned that the changes, which will come into force on June 28, could see more pharmacy applications refused because communities would "panic" if they thought a GP practice was at risk.
The Scottish government launched a two-month consultation on the changes in December as a result of "increasing concerns" by dispensing GP practices and rural communities that pharmacy applications could destabilise local NHS services by making some of their staff and services redundant.
The Scottish government held a two-month consultation on the changes to pharmacy application rules in response to GP concerns
More on pharmacy applications in Scotland
Neeraj Salwan, owner of Reach Pharmacy Group in Renfrewshire, said GPs often organised "heated" debates in town halls in which they told locals that a pharmacy application threatened their livelihood.
"It's very important to take in the views of the public, but there's conflict. Patients will not want a pharmacy to open, they don't want to lose their doctor," he told C+D.
The new application process was a "mess" and the Scottish government should find a "happy medium" that allowed pharmacists and dispensing doctors to co-exist, he added.
Contractor Karen Braithwaite of Aberlour Pharmacy in Moray said it was "not fair" for the Scottish government to make rural communities choose between GPs and pharmacies.
GPs should not have to rely on income from dispensing, as this meant they felt financially threatened by a pharmacy opening nearby, she told C+D.
"They should be paid fairly for the process of medical care. That way the pharmacy wouldn't threaten the provision of medical services," she added.
Fiona McElrea, owner of Whithorn Pharmacy in Wigtownshire, said it was a good thing that communities were now more involved in application decisions, but that the sector must ensure the public were better educated about the services community pharmacy could provide.
The new regulations also introduce statutory time frames for health boards to reach decisions, as well as a requirement for a nominated community representative to be informed of any pharmacy applications.
Community Pharmacy Scotland pharmacy services manager Matt Barclay told C+D that the sector would have to "wait and see" how NHS health boards would apply the regulations.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society director for Scotland Alex MacKinnon said the regulations "fell short" of ensuring all Scottish citizens could access pharmaceutical services.
How much will the new regulations affect your community?