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January 16, 2013

Local concoctions preferred

The recent reforms to the health service in England have served to accentuate the differences with the Scottish system. In particular it seems that the private sector will continue to have less scope to become involved in our system. One associated area where the private sector has long had a role is in the pharmacy business.  That seems to work well most of the time but clearly not always. As one Aberdeenshire community concluded, a different business model was required.


Pitmedden news- TheVoice of Udny


Three Aberdeenshire communities have decided to take local health care into their own hands by making an application for a community-owned pharmacy in the village of Pitmedden.  The pharmacy will be run by a community owned business and all profits from the venture will be ploughed back into the provision of healthcare services in the local area. 

The villages of Tarves, Pitmedden and Methlick hit the headlines recently when a commercial pharmacy was opened in Tarves.  That meant the local GPs, Haddo Medical Group, were no longer allowed to fill prescriptions and the loss of income from their dispensing forced them to close one of their branch surgeries, leaving residents without easy access to a GP.  It also meant that people in Pitmedden could see a doctor, but then had to travel to Tarves or elsewhere to get a prescription filled.  Campaigners from throughout the local area challenged NHS Grampian’s decision to remove dispensing from Haddo Medical Group in Pitmedden, showing that patients would have serious difficulty in accessing prescribed medicines.

Tamsin Morris, one of the local campaigners, takes up the story:  “We took our case to a specially convened NHS review panel, which accepted our evidence and recommended to the Health Board that dispensing be restored to Haddo Medical Group for the Pitmedden area.  The Board accepted that recommendation at their meeting on December 4th, 2012, which means dispensing continues for the foreseeable future.   That’s great, but it also means the dispensing income is now a target for a commercial pharmacy.”

“If a commercial pharmacy opens in Pitmedden, all the income will go into a private company and the profits may well go out of the area.  The only way we can avoid that is to open a pharmacy ourselves, owned by the community and leasing space within the Pitmedden surgery.   Then patients have easy access to their medicines, the dispensing income stays in the community and we can put all the profits towards providing health care services in the local area.”

She continued, “We’ve actually been listening to the pharmacists – if it is a matter of patient safety, then opening a pharmacy ourselves helps to resolve the problem.  Our approach chimes with the Scottish Government’s intention to empower communities and encourage enterprising community development.  However, this is not just about ‘putting something back’ into our communities; it’s about not taking it out in the first place.”

Local Councillor Paul Johnston has been working hard in the background to support the communities throughout the process. He commented, “This is a really important step, moving from a situation where local people feel defensive and threatened, to a place where they can look towards a more secure future for the basic services that they want and deserve.”

Brian MacDougall from Pitmedden has been helping set up the community company:  “Communities all over Scotland are taking on assets and running them themselves – here in Pitmedden we’ve already got out own community owned wind turbine.  So this seemed like a logical solution when we realised the dispensing in Pitmedden would be at risk from a commercial application.  We’ve called the community company the B999 Health Trust, because it’s not only the phone number for the emergency services, it’s also the road that runs through our villages. We’ve still got a long journey ahead of us, as we’re just starting the consultation that’s the first part of a pharmacy application.”

Residents can find out more about the proposed pharmacy and add comments to the consultation at