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Pharmacy consortium loses to builder's pharmacy

An Assura pharmacy

A typical continental-style Assura pharmacy

Community pharmacies in Macclesfield, Cheshire, which formed a consortium to run a pharmacy in a major health centre development, have lost out to a property investment company that bought the health centre before the building was completed.

The company concerned, Assura, formerly the Medical Property Investment Fund, has formed a pharmacy division with the aim of putting its own pharmacies into GP health centres that it owns or builds. The division was established in direct response to the Department of Health’s 2003 pharmacy strategy “A vision for pharmacy in the new NHS” (PJ, 26 July 2003, p111) and focuses on opening pharmacies in health centres. The latest such pharmacy is at the Waters Green health centre in Macclesfield.

Now six GP practices in the town centre have moved into the health centre, accommodating 44 GPs and caring for 60,000 patients. The total population of the Borough of Maccles-field, including outlying areas, is 150,000.

Earlier in the development plan, pharmacies in the area from the Peak Pharmacy, United Co-operative and Boots The Chemists multiples, plus two independents formed a consortium to provide pharmacy services from the health centre and agreed terms with the then developer. But at the end of last year the development was sold to Assura and the consortium got no further.

Eastern Cheshire Primary Care Trust issued the following statement in response to questions from The Journal on the impact of the concentration of patients in the centre.

“Eastern Cheshire PCT continues to support all community pharmacies in Eastern Cheshire. It can confirm that, under control-of-entry requirements, Assura will be providing pharmacy services at Waters Green Medical Centre. However, community pharmacies will continue to provide prescriptions to their local population and will have the opportunity to offer a greater number of services under the new community pharmacy contract. These include needle exchange services, chlamydia screening, supporting patients with long-term conditions and health promotion.”

Peter Cattee, managing director of the Peak Pharmacy group, said: “I cannot believe that the PCT has allowed centralisation like this to take place with no regard to the effect on patients in outlying areas.”

Property developer aims to have 20 pharmacies by next year

The Macclesfield pharmacy brings Assura’s pharmacy portfolio to six. It expects to have eight by the end of the year and 20 by the end of 2007.

The Waters Green health centre pharmacy opened under the 100 hours a week exemption from the usual planning controls for the pharmacy network. It is staffed by five pharmacists, six dispensing technicians, four other assistants and a dispensing robot capable of processing 1,000 prescriptions a day.

Assura spokesman Andrew McKeon said: “We needed to use the exemption because it was essential to have a pharmacy in such a big health centre. The primary care trust [Eastern Cheshire PCT] highlighted the need for out-of-hours provision.”

He added that the company does not focus on exemption applications. Seven of the eight planned for this year were conventional contract applications.

Information on Assura’s website says that the integration of pharmacies into health centres is in line with Government policy that envisages closer alignment of pharmacy and primary care in order to achieve improved clinical outcomes. It adds that there are significant commercial advantages.

However, Assura’s pharmacy ambitions are not restricted to its own health centres. The company’s most recent interim report says that it is expanding its pharmacy contract applications into independently owned health centres.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10002188

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