Andrea Leadsom, parliamentary candidate for South Northamptonshire, says the Government’s proposed changes to the dispensing of medicines would create more work for GPs whilst cutting the income of their practices.
What more punishment does Labour have in store for us? I would have
thought Gordon Brown would leave the family doctor well alone. The one
professional in the UK that people trust is the local GP – those of us
with young children have got to know our GP pretty well through many
years of blood pressure tests, smears, inoculations, kids with chicken
pox and sore throats.
Well, Labour has come up with a new plan that will pull the rug from
under your local doctor. Their White Paper deviously entitled Pharmacy
in England in fact proposes dramatic and far reaching changes to the
way GP services are currently run in England.
The plan, put simply, is to stop GPs dispensing medicines from their
surgeries. This will force pharmacies to assume control over dispensing
medicines, in return for which the Government wants them to start
offering a wider range of services, including diagnosing minor ailments
and managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma.
The first is obvious. The 3.5 million dispensing patients in England will no longer be able to pick up a prescription from their local surgery. Patients will have to go to their nearest Chemist which (because of the ‘distance’ rules on dispensing – a GP can only dispense to a patient who lives more than 1.6 miles from the nearest Chemist) will certainly be more than 1.6 miles from their home.
The second problem is more subtle. Between a quarter and a half of total income of a dispensing practice comes from dispensing medicines. This income enables a practice to have more GPs than they could otherwise afford, and in many cases, subsidises the cost of running branch surgeries, particularly in rural areas.
In total there are over 5,500 dispensing Doctors in England, working from 1,135 dispensing practices.
The loss of income from dispensing would mean inevitable closures of hundreds of surgeries across England and a reduction in the number of GPs in many of the dispensing practices that stay open.
With fellow Northants PPCs and MP Tim Boswell, I met with a group of GPs on Saturday from a Dispensing Doctors Advisory Panel (DISPEX). A lady GP told us that she had recently recruited a new Partner for her GP practice. He had only been working for one week when the White Paper was issued. When he saw it, he resigned his new job with immediate effect. His view was that there would not be a job for him in one year’s time if the dispensary was to go, and therefore it would be better to pursue his career elsewhere. This lady GP told us his analysis of the surgery’s financial position was quite correct.
In South Northamptonshiree our rural communities would stand to lose out in a big way. Most villages do not have a chemist. Our dispensing practices tend to have branch surgeries in smaller villages that are paid for by the income from the dispensary. In as short a time as one year, local doctors could be faced with a huge loss of income and the prospect of closing down services to the local community.
But that’s not the only effect of the Government’s White Paper. The second part of their plan is to have Pharmacists diagnosing and treating so called ‘minor’ ailments.
What happens when you take your child to the chemist because she has a cold and is running a fever? The professional pharmacist will do one of two things: either tell you it’s a cold and to give her paracetamol and an early night; or, if it appears to be something worse than a cold, tell you to go to your GP for medical advice.
In the case of the latter, you’ve now got to get to the surgery, which you may as well have done first time round… you will also be feeling anxious that it may be something serious, because the pharmacist had no choice but to express his concern.
In the case of the former, all is fine if it is just a cold. But what about the rare occasions when what appears to be a cold in fact is early stage meningitis? Many pharmacists fear that they will be pressured to undertake new tasks that are outside their comfort zone and training. The pharmacist is being put in an invidious position. As one GP at the DISPEX meeting put it to me – 29 out of 30 patients in a GP’s waiting room are the ‘Worried Well’; the other one patient has a serious health problem, and it is experience and years of training that enable the GP to identify which is which.
The fear of the GPs and pharmacists is that we will end up with a new and worse version of what they have nicknamed ‘NHS Re-Direct’. In other words, NHS Direct has been a waste of money because it has ended up re-directing so many patients to their GP. If pharmacists take on a complimentary professional role, they too will be forced to re-direct the majority of queries to a GP because they do not have the medico-legal insurance cover, (costing up to £6,000 per annum), of their GP colleagues. The workload of a GP will end up remaining the same while the income stream to pay for it will no longer be there.
The loser will be patient care and patient choice.