The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has called for more stringent action on distance selling pharmacies that supply a predominantly local area, after new research suggested more than 70% were not following contractual requirements.

Many patients choose to order their prescriptions through a distance selling pharmacy (DSP), which is required by NHS England (NHSE) to make uninterrupted essential services available to anyone in England, and is prohibited from suggesting that services will only be available to patients in a particular area.

But new analysis from the CCA has found that in 72% of DSPs (268), over 50% of prescriptions come from GPs in a single postcode area that is located within 10 miles of the pharmacy.

The CCA said that this was competing with local bricks and mortar pharmacies, putting them at risk of closure.

It commented that since 2015 there has been a net closure of 720 pharmacies, but an increase in the number of DSPs. ‘There are several reasons for this but the ability to operate at a lower cost is a key contributor,’ said the CCA’s report on the issue.

It called on NHSE to:

  1. Investigate DSPs that seem not to offer or provide services to patients nationally
  2. Audit all DSPs, and act against DSPs failing to meet their contractual obligations
  3. Challenge DSPs to provide evidence of the fact that they provide a service nationally, and revoke contracts from DSPs who do not meet contractual requirements

The CCA also said that DSPs should be required to provide more than 50% of their prescriptions to non-local patients.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA accused ‘pseudo DSPs’ of ‘creating potential barren spots, breaching legal agreements’, and ‘hastening pharmacy closures’.

He said: ‘Genuine DSPs offer valuable access to medicines for many patients. It is important that patients have a choice in how they access their medicines and can change this according to their needs.

‘However, “Pseudo DSPs” are disrupting the market. NHSE must revoke the contracts of DSPs that continue to fail to meet their contractual requirements.

‘It is down to NHSE to investigate, audit and challenge them so they no longer cause a threat to face-to-face access to pharmacy advice.’

The Pharmacist has approached NHSE for a response.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) told The Pharmacist that she agreed with the CCA’s report.

‘We have for some time been discussing this with the Department of Health and NHS England. I was pleased to hear that it's on their radar, but obviously we need action.’

She added that AIMp was also advising its members to capture information locally when they encountered evidence of what they believe to be a ‘pseudo DSP’, and bring that to their integrated care board (ICB).

‘Both locally and nationally we are we are raising the matter,’ said Dr Hannbeck.

Meanwhile, Nigel Swift, managing director of Rowlands, praised CCA for conducting ‘this important research’ and urged NHSE to take action.

‘What has long been suspected has now been proved,’ he said.

‘I accept there is a role for DSPs in a mixed provider market, but not one which undermines the network of “bricks and mortar” pharmacies by playing fast and loose with regulations.’

And Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association, added: ‘Naturally we agree that distance selling pharmacies should be held to their contractual obligations by the NHS. For the sake of fairness and maintaining patient choice, it’s important that there is a level playing field for all pharmacy providers, including all DSPs and bricks and mortar.’

In addition, Gordon Hockey, director of legal at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), echoed how the CCA’s report ‘once again highlights the need to tighten up the regulatory provisions around establishing and running’ DSPs.

He added that the findings support CPE’s ‘existing arguments on this topic’ which it had set out to both the government and NHSE ‘on many occasions, over a period of several years’.