MP starts petition to save dispensaries

>More than 450 people from north Norfolk have registered concerns over plans to render some doctors' dispensaries redundant.Following the large response over the government proposal to change regulations regarding rural pharmacies and dispensaries at health centres MP Norman Lamb has launched a petition against the scheme.

ANGER is mounting across north Norfolk about government plans which could see most of the area's doctors being banned from dispensing medicines.

Hundreds of people have been expressing their concerns about the proposals, which would see nearly all medicines handed over at pharmacies instead of in surgeries.

Campaigners fear this would lead to thousands of extra trips to town centres, often for elderly and vulnerable people.

The issue is a nationwide one but is particularly relevant in north Norfolk because of the 18 practices in the North Norfolk Health Consortium. All currently dispense, and all but one or two could be hit by a rule change.

With the proposals yet to be set in stone, the campaign has attracted widespread support, with North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb saying he has had more contact on this single issue than on any other since he became an MP seven years ago.

North Norfolk district councillor Penny Bevan-Jones said: "In a rural district such as north Norfolk, the convenience of being able to see a doctor and collect any prescribed medication within the same facility is valued by many patients, particularly those who are elderly or disabled.

Most Read

"The withdrawal of GP dispensing services would also remove an important element of patient choice, which would appear to be directly contrary to this government's stated ethos of patient choice."

Jan Woodison, a patient at the Cromer Group Practice, said the changes would be a "serious inconvenience" to her and her husband, as well as removing the "big asset" of having a dispenser who knew the patients well and could recognise potential errors or flaws in individual prescriptions.

"Our home is in a rural area," said Mrs Woodison, who lives in Thorpe Market, "and to keep going backwards and forwards with all the necessary extra journeys would be yet another strain."

Sara Ponder, business manager at the Cromer Group Practice, said a recent patient conference within the consortium had revealed an overwhelming fear that the changes would be a "complete disaster".

"There is a very great strength of feeling that people want to continue to be dispensed in their own surgery," added Mrs Ponder.

The government is currently consulting on a Pharmacy White Paper, which suggests a range of changes to the health system aimed at getting more people to use pharmacies in tackling minor ailments.

The controversial suggestion is to ban GPs from dispensing if there is a pharmacy less than a mile away.

Mr Lamb said that since the Department of Health announced the plan he had been contacted by more than 450 constituents, with another petition featuring several hundred signatures due to be delivered to his office tomorrow.

"There is no issue in my experience which has seen a bigger self initiated letter writing exercise than this," said Mr Lamb, who is also the Lib Dem's health spokesman.

"That in itself demonstrates that people feel very strongly about this service, which is enormously valued.

"Most of the Pharmacy White Paper is laudable stuff, but this element would be madness."

Last month, the county's health watchdog at Norfolk County Council, the health scrutiny committee, said doctors should retain their right to dispense.

GPs Simon Lockett, who is secretary of Norfolk's Local Medical Committee, and Tony Burgess, from Great Massingham and Docking practice, said the situation should stay as it is.

The committee pledged to write to the Department of Health asking it to scrap the proposals.

The proposed changes could see up to 57 million consultations a year switching from GPs to pharmacies nationally - bringing savings of £400m a year by 2011.