There are no current plans to review the regulations relating to applications by community pharmacies to relocate their premises. The Health and Social Care Board is required to make arrangements for the provision of community pharmacy services, which includes dispensing drugs that are prescribed by prescribers. It does that by contracting out those services to independent retail pharmacies, and a community pharmacy contractor can only dispense health service prescriptions if they are included in the pharmaceutical list that is maintained by the board.
If a community pharmacy contractor wishes to relocate within the neighbourhood in which they already provide services and to provide the same pharmaceutical services without interruption, they can make an application to the Health and Social Care Board. The change of premises must be within the neighbourhood of the premises currently occupied, and the same services must be provided to essentially the same population. If the board agrees that the relocation is minor and is satisfied that the pharmaceutical services that are provided from the existing premises will be provided from the new premises and that there will be no interruption in the provision of those services except as allowed by the board, it must grant the application. In reaching its decision, the board must take account of the views of Community Pharmacy NI. <BR/>A minor relocation is one in which there will be no significant change in the population served and in which other circumstances are such that there will be no appreciable effect on the pharmaceutical services provided by the applicant or by any other community pharmacy in the neighbourhood. If the board decides that a relocation is not minor, the application is treated as if it were a new application to join the pharmaceutical list.
The reason that I raised the question is that, whilst it seems logical to have some form of collocation or near location of a pharmacy and GP surgery, on occasion there are objections from other pharmacies. I encourage the Minister to look at outcomes in view of the fact that sometimes the decisions can be disadvantageous to local communities where a change of location may have been beneficial. I ask her to look at past decisions and, in that light, consider whether there is merit in reviewing the regulations.
Community pharmacies have a strong role to play in supporting the reform of the health and social care system. They help people to get well and to stay well. They dispense approximately 40 million prescription items a year, provide advice and information about medicines and a healthy lifestyle, offer services to improve the safe and effective use of medicines, and support self-care and prevention. There are currently 533 community pharmacies, employing highly qualified pharmacists supported by dedicated healthcare teams. Community pharmacies are therefore an important resource in local communities, and it is estimated that approximately 9% of the population visit a community pharmacy daily.
My Department's vision for Community Pharmacy's contribution to the reform of the health and social care system is set out in a number of strategic documents currently being implemented, including 'Transforming Your Care', 'Making It Better Through Pharmacy in the Community' and the medicines optimisation quality framework. Optimising the benefits of medicine is an important enabler of reform, and the skilled Community Pharmacy workforce are applying their clinical skills to help achieve better outcomes for patients and promote healthy lifestyles. Community pharmacies also support reform by helping to reduce demand on GP and other acute services through provision of advice and treatment of common complaints without the need for a doctor's appointment.
It is unfortunate that a major high street pharmacy is offering free flights and accommodation to entice pharmacists, specifically to relocate from Northern Ireland to England. Can the Minister give a commitment that, under the current regulations, approval for such relocations is granted only when it is determined that such a move would not disproportionately affect existing patient groups using the pharmacy?
I tried to set that out in my initial answer on the factors that the board takes into account when deciding whether someone can relocate. It has to be about serving the population. Community Pharmacy is an excellent resource, which can do, and wants to do, so much more to support people. I read somewhere that, particularly in deprived areas, people are more likely to seek the advice of their pharmacist than that of their GP. We need to use that resource more, and I want to work with Community Pharmacy. The board takes all the factors that I outlined into account when deciding whether a relocation is allowed to go ahead.
Yes. As I said, I very much value the work of Community Pharmacy. We are currently in the process of agreeing new contractual arrangements with it, and that will form part of discussions for the contract. Pharmacies want to do so much more, and I want to work with them to allow that. They deliver really high patient outcomes and maximise front-line engagement with individuals who come in to ask for advice. There is an appetite in Community Pharmacy to do more, and I want to work with it to make sure that we support it in delivering more.