High street chemists threatened: Prescription payment system to change

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of high street chemists face closure under a planned overhaul of the system for paying pharmacists to dispense prescriptions.

Negotiators for the 10,000 high street pharmacists in England and Wales say one in four will be worse off and many will close if the Department of Health imposes its proposals.

The present structure, under which pharmacists are paid pounds 1.59 for each of the first 1,700 prescriptions dispensed per month and 80.5p thereafter, provides some protection for the smaller pharmacies.

Under pressure from the National Audit Office and the Treasury the department wants to move to a flat-rate fee from next year, combined with a new professional allowance. But pharmacists would qualify for the pounds 500 monthly allowance only if they dispensed at least 2,000 a month, according to a department document obtained by the Independent.

Pharmacists' leaders are due to meet the Government today. David Sharpe, chairman of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said last night that the document was at odds with an oral assurance given to the profession this month that the threshold for the allowance would be fixed at 1,000 prescriptions a month.

'The Government says it wants pharmacists to extend their role and provide more counselling and advice to patients about medication and prescriptions. Yet, many parts of the country would be deprived of their pharmaceutical services altogether if these proposals are implemented,' he said.

Six million visits a day are made to pharmacies, and each year 400 million prescriptions are dispensed. The Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the payment system last month for giving 'indiscriminate support to low volume, high cost pharmacies'.

Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said last year that at least half of Britain's pharmacists were working 'well below the volume. . .at which pharmacists dispense most efficiently'.

The Department of Health declined to comment last night.