Chemist wins fight for cheap medicine

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A chemist from South Wales has won a technical victory in his fight to dispense medicines for less than the National Health Service prescription charge.

Allan Sharpe, a pharmacist in Newbridge, Gwent, has had a fine lifted of pounds 550 which was imposed on him in 1995 for breaching NHS rules. He has advised customers over the past 10 years to buy medicine privately when it is cheaper than the NHS prescription fee of pounds 5.50.

Mr Sharpe was fined by the NHS-run Mid-Glamorgan Family Services Authority for being in breach of his contract. He appealed to William Hague, the Secretary of State for Wales, who decided the case against him was flawed because Gwent Family Services Authority, who referred the case to Mid- Glamorgan, had waited too long before acting on a complaint.

But a spokesman for the Welsh Office said yesterday that Mr Sharpe was still subject to the law if he carried on dispensing prescriptions at a cheaper rate.

Yesterday Mr Sharpe said: "I am not going to stop saving my patients money; I am not prepared to play at being a tax collector for the Government. I hope this will prompt the Government and the NHS to sort out ... the prescription system."

The National Pharmaceutical Association, which represents 10,000 independent pharmacies throughout the UK, said the result of the appeal was "disappointing" as the legal position had not been clarified.

"Mr Sharpe is focusing public attention on the grossly unfair system of prescription charges and the NPA is fully in sympathy with what he has been seeking to achieve," a spokeswoman said.

"However, private dispensing is not the solution ...What is needed is a full review of the prescription charge system."