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Pharmacy minister distances himself from Smarties slur

Politics Pharmacy minister Earl Howe (pictured) has defended pharmacists against an attack by fellow Conservative MP and GP Phillip Lee, who called for an end to taxpayer subsidies for pharmacies to just count Smarties.

Pharmacy minister Earl Howe has distanced himself from fellow Tory MP Phillip Lee's claims that pharmacists are being paid to count Smarties, hailing pharmacists as "highly skilled and trusted health professionals".

Earl Howe said pharmacists played a vital role in advising patients how to use medicines and get the best out of them, responding to the comments made a fortnight ago by practising GP Dr Lee.

Dr Lee argued that taxpayers were subsidising pharmacists to "check the box and then sign" and said he couldn't understand why all GP practices couldn't be dispensing as it was "just like counting Smarties, you don't have to be terribly intellectual to do it".

"Pharmacists are often the first point of call for many people and... they can help to reduce pressure on busy GP practices" Earl Howe, pharmacy minister

More on counting Smarties

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But Earl Howe told C+D yesterday that pharmacists were "highly skilled professionals who support patients on a wide range of issues".

"Pharmacists are often the first point of call for many people and – by treating a wide range of minor injuries, ailments and illnesses – they can help to reduce pressure on busy GP practices," Lord Howe stressed.

"They are also accessible on the high street, in supermarkets and shopping centres providing an informal environment to discuss health-related matters."

GPs also dismissed their colleague's claim. The British Medical Association's General Practitioners' Committee (GPC) said Dr Lee's argument that GPs could save the NHS money by taking over dispensing was "fundamentally flawed".

"The idea that the NHS will make substantial savings as a consequence of subsuming the entire dispensing system into mainstream primary care is one that is fundamentally flawed," argued GPC clinical and prescribing committee chair Bill Beeby.

Dr Beeby questioned whether the proposals would result in real savings or improvements, stressing that the existing system promoted effective and co-operative working between GPs and pharmacists. "This enables patient safety to be maintained and achieves the best utilisation of the respective assets of surgeries and pharmacies," he said.

The comments were backed by the Dispensing Doctors' Association (DDA), who said reforming the dispensing doctor system was not on its agenda. "There are a lot more important things [to do] than throwing the furniture up in the air and seeing where it lands – the NHS is doing that anyway," argued DDA chief executive Matthew Isom.

"It's not just about doctors dispensing medicines – it would mean a huge change in the way the pharmacy system works in this country," he told C+D. "If Dr Lee wants that, he's got to persuade people in his own party and I don't think he'll have much success, really."


What do you make of Dr Lee's comments?

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7 Comments

Manish Gupta, Community pharmacist

Numerous cases where GP's have opened their own Pharmacies and surely doing well.Mr MP comments about moving dispensing to GP practice is a clear indication that they will be able to profit more unless Mr MP forgot to mention it will be done for free .

Thanks to some key figure for supporting pharmacy profession.

SHABBIR.J ABDULHUSSEIN., Community pharmacist

Thanks Mr Earl Howe for your kind words,and praises for the pharmacists.As yet despite all the oppositions and comments from various organisations condemning the smarties comment how about a public apology from DR LEE .Its time to face the truth....

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I may of said this before, but there's no need for such animosity between Doctor and Pharmacist. I truely believe the way forward is for both professionals to come together to provide a complete care package for a patient.

Sachin Badiani, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

This story about dr whatshisname tells me something: he is insulting the hard working dispensing staff who run the doctor dispensaries when talking about their intelligence...

Mohammed Ali, Community pharmacist

These comments seem always come from GPs and not private Drs.
We are increasing our services as the year go by, and some GPs are decreasing their services. Many patients complain to me that they have to go private because GPs are diagnosing not diagnosing them accurately. On the other hand we, as a majority, give accurate advice and if we are unsure of something we inform the patient that we don't know and not just use the phrase ''you're fine and nothings wrong with you''.

Claire Hiscott, Locum pharmacist

I am delighted that Earl Howe has made these positive comments and shows government support for us as a profession. Times may be tough, but a good news story is what we need.

Nick Hunter, Community pharmacist

At least some key bodies are demonstrating support for community pharmacy in light of this stupid statement by Dr Lee. It shows all the hard work building relationships with these key bodies is paying off.

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