The Department of Health has published new regulations on National Health Services pharmaceutical services, including removing controversial exemptions for '100-hour' pharmacies and introducing a new performance regime.

Under the current system, pharmacies undertaking to provide pharmaceutical services for at least 100 hours per week, as well as those wishing to set up in big shopping centres and one-stop primary care centres, are exempt from normal market entry conditions, but various groups have been battling to change this for some time.

As the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Service Committee explains, the removal of the exemption for new 100-hour pharmacies "will boost the confidence of pharmacy contractors to invest in their services, and the drain on the NHS purse caused by clustering of additional pharmacies that bring about little improvement in access will also be greatly reduced".

Also welcoming the announcement, Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP, Chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group, said the removal "has rightly brought to an end the haphazard opportunism that has so characterized market entry in recent times," and he stressed that this is "good news for patients, pharmacists, taxpayers and local communities across the country".

Shilpa Gohil, Chair of English Pharmacy Board, agreed that the removal of the 100-hour control of entry exemption is "great news for pharmacists and patients". 

"Health planning must be based on the needs of patients and the public," and "we will be calling for Health and Wellbeing boards to have the required expertise to make sure pharmaceutical needs assessments (PNA) are rigorous and robust, as they must be if they are to be used for planning pharmaceutical services and meeting patient need and choice".

Pharmacy minister Earl Howe said the plans will form a new regime from September 1 in which any decisions on pharmacy contract applications will be based on local PNAs, and which will allows for the application of pharmacy contracts where "unforseen benefits" not anticipated in the PNA are demonstrated.

In addition, there will also be a new performance regime for pharmacies performing under par, which could actually face being removed from a primary care trust's list as an ultimate sanction. And the regulations will also enable people to apply for pharmacy contracts where they can demonstrate that the pharmacy will bring "unforeseen benefits" not anticipated in the PNA.

"The introduction of these new regulations will help make sure NHS pharmaceutical services best reflect local needs," said a Department of Health spokesperson. "They also enable new pharmacies who can demonstrate innovative new ways of providing services or delivering better health outcomes to open up in local communities." 

New Rx powers for practitioners

Elsewhere, new prescribing powers for advanced practitioner physiotherapists and podiatrists means that patients could get faster access to medicines such as painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

Once trained, physiotherapists and podiatrists in the UK would be the first in the world to be able to independently prescribe medicines where clinically appropriate, the DH said this morning (Tuesday).

“Physiotherapists and podiatrists are highly trained clinicians who play a vital role in ensuring patients receive integrated care that helps them recover after treatment or manage a long term condition successfully," said Health Minister Lord Howe.

“By introducing these changes, we aim to make the best use of their skills and allow patients to benefit from a faster and more effective service.”