Save our local chemists Apr03

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Report into retail pharmacy services in the UK threatens the continued viability of thousands of independent pharmacies. West Suffolk may be badly hit as those trading in market towns are forced out of business through increased competition from supermarket chains.


The OFT study published in January argues for the removal of entry barriers in the pharmacy industry, claiming that there would be benefits for consumers in the way of reduced prices, improved quality of services and better access.


The report is likely to result in legislation allowing supermarkets to open in-house pharmacies competing directly and unfairly with independent chemists. At present, supermarket pharmacies are only permitted wherever there is a genuine need, and where they do not pose a threat to independent chemists rendering a valuable service to the local community.


The proposals to further deregulate the 8.6bn dispensing market will threaten many small chemists across the East of England if implemented in full, with Boots and Lloyds Pharmacies, which control over 20% of the market, being the hardest hit. These chemists - and small independent businesses - are already suffering from increased competition with toiletries, cosmetics and over-the-counter medicines being sold by supermarkets. If their prescription trade is siphoned off to an unlimited number of in-house supermarket pharmacies, they will simply go out of business.


The impact on local pharmacies in Newmarket, Brandon, Haverhill, Sudbury - and even Bury St Edmunds - could mean that our pensioners, who need regular medication and rely on the service of their local chemist whom they know well and can trust as a valuable source of health advice, will be severely disadvantaged. It could result in less mobile older people being forced to collect their prescriptions from supermarkets, which may not be found locally.


The British regulation on ownership and location of pharmacies is already significantly more liberalised than in most EU Member States. In Finland and Sweden, all pharmacies are state owned, while in Spain and Germany, only trained pharmacists are permitted to own and manage chemist shops. Despite the drive to achieve an open, competitive, free market economy, there is no pressure from the European Union to further liberalise the pharmacy market and therefore change current legislation.


The Labour Government must consider the impact of the OFT recommendations on the small, family-run businesses in East Anglia - the backbone of our communities - and our less mobile poor and elderly before making its final decision. I believe that changing existing regulations unnecessarily will benefit neither our pharmacies nor our consumers.