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Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what plans he has to make increased use of pharmacists to ease the pressure on GPs; [107018](2) what plans he has to transfer responsibility for repeat prescriptions from GPs to chemists. [107021]

Community pharmacists have an important part to play in our plans to expand national health service services, thereby relieving pressures on general practitioners whilst making better use of their own skills. They already provide advice on minor ailments and sell a wide range of medicines which help people take care of their own health. Patient group directions can enable pharmacists to supply groups of patients direct with prescription-only medicines.Pharmacists are increasingly involved in providing support and detailed advice to patients and to doctors on the use of medicines. The first repeat dispensing schemes will begin shortly. Pharmacists will supply medicines for up to a year, without the patient needing to go back to their general practitioner for a further prescription. Later this year, the first pharmacists will become supplementary prescribers. With the patient's consent, pharmacists will be able to prescribe under the terms of a patient-specific clinical management plan agreed with their doctor.The new general medical services contract proposes new ways to assess whether services could be offered by other health professionals, especially where these services could be accessed more easily and more cost-effectively than through traditional general practice. We expect pharmacists to play a full part in this and we are currently developing a new contractual framework for community pharmacy to help make that happen.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to ensure that vulnerable patients, with particular reference to (a) the elderly, (b) the disabled and (c) young mothers, continue to have easy access to local pharmacy services. [107019]

Under the National Health Service Act 1977, it is the responsibility of national health service primary care trusts (PCTs) to arrange the provision of pharmaceutical services in their area. This includes determining whether it is necessary or desirable to secure adequate provision of services by granting new applications. The Health and Social Care Act 2001 also empowers PCTs to devise contracts for local pharmaceutical services which address particular local needs.In January 2003, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published a report, which recommended that there should be no controls on the opening of new NHS pharmacies. In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), on 26 March, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, announced that the Government favours change to open up the market and to improve quality and access, so that more NHS patients can use the skills of community pharmacists for advice, information and services. The OFT report had also noted that in a more competitive environment problems could arise through the possible effect of deregulation on the ability of patients in some areas to access high quality pharmacy services. The Government is therefore examining these issues further. It intends to come forward with a balanced package of proposals before Parliament rises in the summer. Any proposed changes would then be the subject of full consultation.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to address the increased demand on the pharmacy work force. [107020]

Securing adequate numbers in the pharmacy work force and developing the roles of pharmacists and their staff are central to the success of our pharmacy strategy. There are over a third more new pharmacy students now than 10 years ago. We forecast a 12 per cent. increase in the pharmacist work force between 1998 and this year. New schools of pharmacy should provide additional graduates from 2007 onwards. At the Department's request, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has established a pharmacy work force planning and policy advisory group to scope future work force needs and advise on managing supply and demand. The group is expected to report in 2004.

We are also considering responses to the discussion paper, "Pharmacy Workforce in the New NHS", launched in September 2002 to improve the skill mix of the pharmacy work force and develop the role of pharmacy support staff. We will bring forward proposals in due course.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many representations he has received on the desirability of retaining and nurturing smaller independent pharmacies; and if he will make a statement. [107230]

We have received over 1,000 responses to the report the Office of Fair Trading, published in January 2003, many of which refer to the desirability of maintaining smaller independent pharmacies.The Government favours change in England to open up the market and improve quality and access, which we intend to do without diminishing the crucial role that pharmacies play, especially in poorer and rural areas. The Government intends to come forward with a balanced package of proposals before Parliament rises in the summer. Any proposed changes would then be the subject of full consultation.