[Sinn Fein]

12th March 2003

Community pharmacies are an essential part of our health care services

Sinn Fein Health Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA John Kelly responding to the proposals from the Office of Fair Trading to end control of entry regulations for community pharmacies has said that community pharmacies are an essential part of our health care services.

Mr Kelly said:

``Sinn Fein regards community pharmacies as an essential part of our health care services. It is imperative that pharmacies remain located in communities, rather than being concentrated in shopping malls and around doctors' surgeries.

``People most in need of pharmacies are often also those who have mobility difficulties because of illness or disability. People living in rural or deprived areas will be worst hit, having to travel considerable distances and at no small cost to get medicines.

``The whole system could be put at risk if legislation protecting community pharmacies is lifted. Deregulation could potentially force many community pharmacies out of business and deprive communities of an invaluable local health resource.

``The current system of regulations restricts the number of pharmacies contracted to dispense NHS prescriptions. The bulk of contracts go to small community pharmacies and a few chemist chains - big supermarket multiples are largely excluded from the prescription market. The proposed deregulation means that there is a very real chance that our local chemists will be forced to close their doors in face of competition from these big supermarket chains. That is in no one's interests except for the multiple retailers that are set to make big profits out of it.

``Rather than destroying the community pharmacist, we should be looking at ways in which the role of the pharmacist could be expanded. In many cases local chemists have the knowledge and skills to solve health problems that people currently go to their GP for. Allowing them to expand their remit of care would relieve some of the pressure on our hard-pressed family doctors. If community pharmacies close, it will mean further pressure upon GPs and impact on their services.

``However, there is room for improvement in the community pharmacy sector. Times of opening, for example, tend to be restricted to nine to five. It is time for community pharmacies to provide opening hours that are more flexible. Community pharmacies also need to demonstrate that they are not exploiting their position. That means that they need to charge prices for non-prescription items that are competitive. If community pharmacies cannot provide full access and proper value for money, their case for the maintenance of regulation is weakened.

``While there is scope for improvement in the service provided by regulated pharmacies, Sinn Fein demand the retention of regulation. The communities that Sinn Fein serve need their pharmacists, and need them to be local. It is those needs that count, not the desire of multinationals to increase already substantial profits.''

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