Clause 26 gives us the opportunity to have another bite of the cherry. It deals also with the issue of supervision—writ large, I suppose, because we are dealing with bodies corporate. We might understand that to mean, for example, some of the larger chains of pharmacies.
My concerns and those of the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) have not been entirely explored by the Minister; perhaps she will think about the issue further in our debate on this clause. There seem to be two aspects to the argument about supervision. One concerns safety and one concerns the quality of the extended role of the pharmacist. We can all understand that it is important for someone to be on hand to check prescriptions and make sure that there are no drug interactions or other technical matters such as name conflicts. As the Minister has hinted, many of those tasks can be dealt with through remote and electronic means, such as telemedicine, which embrace new technology.
If we took that to its logical conclusion, as the hon. Member for Northavon pointed out, we could produce a system in which a superintendent pharmacist employed by Boots the Chemist sat in an office in London and fielded calls from the hundreds of pharmacies scattered around the country. The quality of the advice given would probably be very good and it would clearly be auditable in a way that it currently is not. That model therefore has some advantages. It is for the Minister to say why a limit needs to be set on the number of pharmacies that a pharmacist might be able to supervise, if the argument is to do with patient safety. I think that the Minister may struggle to explain that, but I should be interested to hear her thoughts.
There is another strand to the question, however, which concerns the developing role of the pharmacist. It relates to large pharmacies in the same way as small single pharmacist-owned premises of a traditional sort, in a high street. The argument for limiting the number of pharmacies that can be supervised in those circumstances is far clearer. If we are to develop the role of the pharmacist in that way, which would be a good thing, it makes sense to ensure that individuals who turn up at high-street chemists can have confidence that they will deal with a qualified pharmacist, because of the issues of accessibility and immediacy that lie at the heart of the developing role of the pharmacist.
The more I think about the two aspects of the matter, the more I am convinced by the questions of the quality of the extended role of the pharmacist, and the less I am convinced by questions of safety. The whole matter comes to a head when we consider bodies corporate and how larger chains of pharmacies might manage with one superintendent pharmacist sitting in an office dispensing advice. He or she would certainly tick the box for safety—at least I have not seen any convincing evidence to the contrary—but manifestly not the box for face-to-face patient contact.
With those issues in mind, I must press the Minister on why and how she will insist on a particular number of pharmacies that a pharmacist may supervise. I suspect that the number will be low—in fact, from what we understand comes later in the Bill, I suspect that it is one. If so, I should be grateful to know the rationale for that. One can easily demolish the safety rationale but not—quite the reverse—the rationale based on the extended role of the pharmacist. What is driving the Minister’s thinking in limiting the number of pharmacies that pharmacists may supervise?
The limitation on the number of pharmacies that a pharmacist can supervise and be responsible for is something that we shall come to on clause 28, but it might help the Committee if we deal quickly with it now. The clause sets the general rule that a pharmacist will generally be in charge only of one pharmacy. Clause 26 replaces the requirement under section 71 of the Medicines Act 1968 that requires each pharmacy carried on by a body corporate to be under the personal control of the pharmacist with a requirement for each pharmacy to have a responsible pharmacist. Those requirements are essentially the same as those in clause 25, which relates to small pharmacies owned by individuals and partnerships, except for subsection (1)(a) of the new section 71 that deals with the superintendent pharmacist, which is really what the clause is about.
A body corporate conducting a pharmacy business must appoint a superintendent pharmacist, the rule of whom is company wide. The superintendent pharmacist is there to ensure that the body corporate meets the statutory requirements relating to pharmacy premises. He has an important standard-setting role for the conduct of the pharmacy business, including how it reflects standards set by the professional regulatory bodies. The clause ensures that the role of the superintendent pharmacist will continue, as now, under the Medicines Act. The responsible pharmacist, under clause 28, will continue to be under the direction of the superintendent pharmacist.
We sought views on the role of the superintendent pharmacist, as the pharmacist in control of each pharmacy is subject to the general direction of the superintendent pharmacist. The response to public consultation was that more detailed debate was needed on the role of the superintendent pharmacist before considering changes so, for now, we are concentrating on the responsible pharmacist as the key change that will end the uncertainties that we have just debated about personal control requirements.
We shall continue to discuss with the profession how we can develop further the role and where further regulatory reform needs to take place. As now, the responsible pharmacist will continue to be under the direction of the superintendent pharmacist and, other than the changes that we have discussed, there will be little further change to the role.