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Pharmacy - The last 20 years

31 July 2014

Whenever I visit the British Museum, I pass the original Pharmaceutical Society HQ, with its name (not yet Royal) and the year 1841 carved into the masonry.

For most of the following 173 years, the profession saw relatively little alteration in its legal framework, but legal changes in the last 20 years have been dramatic.

Changing the structure of the NHS is not a recent thing. Family Practitioner Committees had become Family Health Services Authorities by 1994, and control of entry was already established.

However, the case law that dictated whether new contracts would be granted had yet to be decided by the courts. Meanwhile, enhanced and advanced services were not even a twinkle in a Health Minister's eye.

It is hard to believe that retail price maintenance (RPM) survived till 2001, allowing manufacturers to fix the prices of OTC medicines. A protracted court battle to continue price fixing was dropped.

It had been argued that price competition would result in the loss of sales and the closure of many high street pharmacies.

However, when price fixing ended, the pharmacy world did not - probably because the public mistakenly believed that OTC medicines were already cheaper in supermarkets.

Since 1987, control of entry had worked reasonably well. At the end of the twentieth century, the OFT recommended its abolition.

Pharmacy fought a successful rearguard action, persuading the Government to retain a revised regime.

The good news was that amendments resulted in a significant reduction in the ability of GPs in rural areas to gain dispensing rights. The bad news was the introduction of 100-hour pharmacies.

The tried and tested necessary or desirable test for granting new pharmacy contracts was replaced in 2012 by new market entry regulations. It remains to be seen whether the new system will be better.

Twenty years ago, the profession was self-regulating, and its disciplinary procedures were dealt with by a Committee that had been in existence for 60 years. Those procedures were not modernised till 2007. We now have a system that is better, but not faster.

In 2010, the profession found itself, post-Shipman, governed by a regulator which does not have members and whose function is to protect the public, not pharmacists (let alone registered pharmacy technicians, who were a recent but welcome addition to the profession).

If the profession has learned anything from the many changes affecting pharmacy in the last 20 years, surely it is that nothing is set in stone.

This article was written by David Reissner.

For more information please contact David on +44 (0)20 7203 5065 or david.reissner@crsblaw.com.