Firm's 80 pharmacy bids to threaten the viability of dispensing practices

Dispensing practices in England could lose half of their income because a company has made string of speculative applications to set up new pharmacies.

Manchester-based United Pharmacies has made 80 such applications since launching in November.

Only one, in Widdrington, Northumberland, has so far been accepted by a PCT. But the company has won several others on appeal.

The news comes as a government White Paper on pharmacy threatens 80 per cent of dispensing practices

Dr Chris Waite, a partner at the Widdrington Surgery said that, if a pharmacy goes ahead, the practice will lose half its income and the equivalent of half a full-time GP.

A spokeswoman for Northumberland PCT said that there had been 'no reason to reject the application'. Under current regulations it had no choice but to accept it, she said.

The practice is challenging the plan before the NHS Litigation Authority and a decision is due this month.

GPs and pharmacists alike have criticised United's scatter-gun approach.

The current laws make it hard for doctors to fight back in areas where a pharmacy is viable.

Widdrington Surgery acts as a dispensary for 97 per cent of its patients, and fills 6,000 prescriptions a month. Staff said that this accounts for half its income and subsidises other services.

If United's plan goes ahead, the practice will no longer be able to dispense to 80 per cent of its patients. If the recent pharmacy White Paper becomes law, the practice will be forced to give up dispensing altogether.

'We'd have to lay off five dispensary staff, one of whom has worked for us for 36 years,' said Dr Waite. 'The PCT claims there would be no diminution in our services if the pharmacy happened, and that's not true.'

United Pharmacies does not currently run any pharmacies, although its partners own 10 between them.

Director Sohail Sharief said United was confident it could open all its proposed new pharmacies. 'But nothing is off the table,' he said. 'If a doctor is really concerned and feels their only option is to buy us out, we might do it.'

From next month there will be a £750 application fee, in order to discourage speculative applications.

More than 1,700 local people have signed a petition against the new pharmacy in Widdrington. The area's population is around 2,700.

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