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24 March 2017

Charles Russell Speechlys hosts annual Pharmacy Law Conference at the Wellcome Collection

Now in its 8th year, the pharmacy team at Charles Russell Speechlys was delighted to welcome over 120 delegates to its annual Pharmacy Law Conference on 23rd March 2017. This year we chose to host the conference at the Wellcome Collection, a fitting venue given its connection to the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector.

Delegates to the conference included the usual mix of pharmacy owners, with representatives from the largest multiples to single pharmacies, and intermediaries, including banks, accountants, agents, valuers and consultants.

The conference looked at pharmacy practice and pharmacy businesses from a legal perspective, giving a review of recent regulatory change and an insight into forthcoming changes, allowing delegates the opportunity to understand the risks and opportunities to their business in a wider context, and giving ideas to help plan for the future.

Not only were delegates were encouraged to ask questions during the event and over coffee or lunch, but this year we used an online voting system – Slido – to canvass opinion in real time.

We covered 5 topics over the morning:

The Connected Generation: Rebooting family business succession for the digital age

The day before the conference, Charles Russell Speechlys launched its latest report: The Connected Generation. The firm interviewed family business leaders from across the world and their advisers. The report lays out their views and our recommended approach for what family businesses must do to ensure they secure their future growth.

The report was not written specifically for pharmacy owners, but many pharmacy businesses are family-owned and face the twin challenges of successional change and digitalisation, Delegates were therefore interested to learn more about the report from Emma Wheeler, Head of Content at Charles Russell Speechlys. You can read more and download the report here.

Regulatory update

Rachel Warren looked back over changes in pharmacy regulation (both legal and ethical) since the 2016 conference and looked forward to changes coming down the line over the next few months.

Rachel discussed two recent cases involving pharmacists and how the General Pharmaceutical Council approaches concerns regarding a pharmacist's private life. This linked into a review of forthcoming changes to the Standards for Pharmacy Professionals.

Rachel also highlighted a recent change in the regulation of online prescribing pharmacies and what those affected should consider in order to protect their businesses.

Merging pharmacies

The pharmacy team has a broad range of legal skills, covering all aspect of pharmacy business and practice. This is just as well, because next we looked at new regulations which allow pharmacies which are near to each other to merge together without leaving a gap in service provision which could be exploited by a new pharmacy.

We looked at a factual scenario of two separately-owned pharmacies merging onto one site to explain how the merger might work and what should be considered. Firstly, Andrew Sweetman explained the regulations themselves, what the remaining pharmacy would have to offer in terms of hours and services and how an application to merge should be made to NHS England.

Tim Jenkins and Jonathan Steele then focused on the business aspects of a merger, including what would have to be agreed between the merging pharmacies in terms of ownership of the new venture; carrying out due diligence so that each party understands the business; how to make sure that both parties to the merger remain committed to the joint venture; and how to protect the business if the merging parties fall out.

When two pharmacies merge, it is likely that there will be too many staff for the single-remaining pharmacy. Ben Smith, a partner in our employment team, gave an overview of the employment obligations that need to be followed to avoid significant penalties for breaches of employment law.

Finally, Claire Timmings considered the practical implications of closing a pharmacy from a property point of view, including how to deal with any unwanted lease.

This session included plenty of opportunity for delegates to provide feedback through Slido. Interestingly, two thirds of delegates said that they had considered selling a pharmacy in the last year, but a similar number said that they would consider merger as an alternative to selling.

Market entry update

After a coffee break, Susan Hunneyball looked at recent market entry decisions. She started with a review of recent activity of the NHS Litigation Authority, which determines pharmacy market entry appeals, pointing out that the NHSLA is still granting between one in seven and one in eight applications to open a new pharmacy offering unforeseen benefits.

Susan then highlighted the first two judicial reviews that have been brought since the current pharmacy market entry system came into force in 2013, analysing the decisions and giving practical advice on how applications should be approached in light of judicial guidance.

Finally, Susan looked at one particular aspect of the market entry system which has yet to be subject to judicial guidance: what is meant by an application resulting in "significant change", questioning whether that will form the basis of the next judicial review challenge.

The remuneration judicial reviews

Finally, the pharmacy team could not ignore the fact that whilst the conference was taking place at the Wellcome Collection, the High Court was hearing judicial review proceedings brought against the Department of Health in relation to cuts in community pharmacy funding.

Using previously unpublished material obtained from the Court file and comments being made by the barristers in Court, Noel Wardle and David Reissner re-enacted the proceedings, stepping into the shoes of the barristers presenting the case in the High Court.

Before explaining the issues, delegates were pessimistic about the prospects of success, with two-thirds believing that the legal challenge would fail. Delegates were asked to vote again after hearing from Noel and David, and had been swayed by the arguments, with only around half now believing that the legal challenge would fail.

If our delegates are right, the decision appears to be on a knife-edge. We are expecting the High Court judgment within a couple of weeks.