VILLAGE doctors are bidding to open their own pharmacy in a bid to safeguard the future of their practice and the services it provides to patients.
Dr Chris Waite and his wife Dr Yvonne Lees – who run the 3,000-patient practice in Widdrington Station, Northumberland – have applied to open the pharmacy at their Grange Road surgery building.
If approved, they hope the facility will make it virtually impossible for anyone to open a rival pharmacy in the village – and ensure the continued viability of their practice.
The move comes after the two GPs and their patients have spent two years living under the threat of a proposed private pharmacy in the village. Health chiefs approved a preliminary bid by United Pharmacies (UK) last year, despite a 1,700-name protest petition from villagers. The decision was ratified in March this year by the NHS Litigation Authority, following an appeal by the surgery.
That gave United Pharmacies six months in which to submit a full application to the North East Family Health Services Agency (NEFHSA), but it failed to meet the deadline, which has now passed.
Now Drs Waite and Lees have submitted their own application for a pharmacy to the NEFHSA, which is expected to consider it early next year.
Under NHS rules, if a private pharmacy had opened in Widdrington Station, the GP surgery would be prevented from dispensing drugs and medicines to all but 300 of its 3,000 patients.
Because income from the dispensary is used to subsidise and support the surgery’s medical services, campaigners said its loss would result in one of the GPs having to be laid off and possible closure in the future.
Yesterday practice manager Tony Brown said now that the United Pharmacies approval had lapsed, the surgery's management team was acting to ensure the services it currently provides are protected in the future.
Dr Waite said a pharmacy at the surgery would enhance the existing dispensing service and allow the development of some new services. He said: “We see this as a positive solution which will benefit the practice, our patients and the community.
“We would like to thank the Save Our Surgery campaign team and the local public for their continued support. We look forward to involving the patient forum and members of the community to discuss the kind of services they would like to see at a pharmacy, should our application be successful.”
Arnold Baker, a local councillor and patient at the surgery, said: “I hope the practice can move forward with renewed confidence and will continue delivering a first-rate service.” Scores of placard-carrying villagers staged a demonstration in support of the surgery last year.