Exclusive: Talks under way to save rural practices

Talks are under way to ensure that rural practices do not go under when they lose their dispensing rights.

Last month's pharmacy White Paper would mean that any practice within a mile of a pharmacy would no longer be able to dispense. Some practices could lose more than 40 per cent of their income.

But Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chairman, told GP that 'work is going on now' to ensure that practices that depend on dispensing will not be threatened by the change.

'Certainly the DoH, NHS Employers and ourselves are aware that not every practice regards income from dispensing as a nice little extra. A lot of small remote and rural practices depend on that money,' he said. 'We're actively looking at this now, and trying to understand what makes those practices different.'

Dr Buckman could not give a time scale for the talks and said it was too early to say what form the protection would take. But warned it would be unlikely to involve changing the global sum to take greater account of rurality.

Options could include enhanced service funding for rural services, more generous PMS contracts, or changing the White Paper to ensure that practices are not destabilised by competition from pharmacies.

About 900 of the 1,170 dispensing practices in England could lose as much as half of their income under the DoH's proposals according to the Dispensing Doctors Association.

Those most at risk are medium sized and in market towns, where they depend on dispensing income but serve communities big enough to attract pharmacies.

Dr David Jenner, GMS lead at the NHS Alliance, said that a Conservative government would be more motivated to preserve rural services.

'It holds rural seats, it's simple politics,' he said


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