We have so far received about 1,000 responses to the OFT report on community pharmacies. It is the Government's intention to respond to the report within the next few weeks. We are working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that our response properly reflects the interests of NHS patients in providing access and choice for improved local pharmacy services.
I fully support the vision of my hon. Friend's Department for the future role and development of community pharmacies, but can I tell him that the OFT's recommendations on scrapping control of entry regulations threaten to drive a coach and horses through his Department's policy? I represent an area of small towns with high chronic illness and low car ownership. Those towns have already lost banks and post offices. May I urge him to ask his DTI colleagues to reject the OFT's recommendations?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that one cannot go through the Lobby as Minister with responsibility for pharmacy services at the moment without being lobbied by almost every MP about this important issue. That is a testimony to the work that community pharmacies do in all our areas. They provide valuable services in deprived communities and rural and suburban communities alike. It is right that we consider the proposals against our wider policy objectives in the Department of Health for community pharmacies.
Is the Minister not aware that, as things stand, he will be known as the man who shut down the rural pharmacies? Something should be done about that. Would he not be much better off ensuring that pharmacies in the countryside provide a range of complementary therapies?
What would shut down the pharmacies is a 20 per cent. cut across the board. We have 90 days to consider the report and we are doing so very carefully.