Independent pharmacies are concerned that Department of Health (DH) proposals to allow them to legally operate a hub-and-spoke dispensing model could hamper patient care.
C+D revealed last week (October 10) that the DH is “looking into” relaxing the law prohibiting companies from operating the model unless they own both the dispensing hub and the pharmacy. This would allow all pharmacies – rather than “just the large multiples” – to use it, the DH said.
But contractors warned that hub-and-spoke dispensing would “change pharmacy beyond all recognition” by reducing interaction between patients and pharmacists.
National Pharmacy Association (NPA) board member Mike Hewitson told C+D that independents he had spoken to had little appetite for the model.
“I don’t hear any clarion calls. [The DH should] test that this is something [independents] want, rather than just doing something it wants,” he said.
Bal Singh, head pharmacist at Khaira Pharmacy in West Bromwich, predicted that the model would “massively” reduce the quality of care pharmacies offer by moving core processes “off site”.
“Most independents are near a surgery for a reason: they can be flexible in [a way] that multiples can’t. [The hub-and-spoke model] takes away one of their massive unique selling points, for what? Saving a few pennies?” he said.
Others voiced concerns that, by driving down the cost of dispensing, the model could result in the DH paying contractors less for supplying medicines.
Former NPA chief executive Mike Holden told C+D that this would “claw back” any cost savings a hub made, while community pharmacist Clive Hodgson said pharmacists would be left to “scratch some form of living” by delivering clinical services.
Level the playing field
But Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni said it would be “inexplicable” if the DH did not allow independents to “play on the same playing field” as multiples.
He stressed that the government must be “really clear” that independents could own their hub. “We mustn’t be forced into a position where we use hubs owned by another organisation [and they decide to] chop the spokes off,” he said.
Locum Ross Ferguson was one of the readers who welcomed the news. He told C+D that hub-and-spoke dispensing could be the sector’s “salvation”.
“If we continue to grimly hold on to the dispensing process then we are doomed to count ourselves out of existence,” he said.