Responding to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation, Pharmacy Forum NI has supported the proposal to expand hub and spoke dispensing to include new arrangements between registered pharmacies belonging to different legal entities, provided that the proposals do not compromise the level of care offered to patients through pharmaceutical services.

The Forum recognises that modernisation, innovation and automation are embedded within how pharmacies practise, therefore we are supportive of opportunities that will lead to improved health outcomes for patients and the public. However, of the two hub and spoke dispensing models presented in the consultation, Pharmacy Forum NI remains only broadly supportive of model 1 – where medicines are returned assembled from the hub to the spoke pharmacy before supply to the patient; the Forum does not support model 2, where the hub pharmacy supplies medicines directly to the patient.

Commenting on the proposals, Chair of Pharmacy Forum NI, Eamon O’Donnell, said:

“The preservation of patient safety is paramount and must be a guiding principle in any developments impacting NI pharmacy. With the current proposals, we believe model 1 better conserves the pharmacist-patient relationship, which has become indispensable as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly for our most vulnerable in society.

Community pharmacy services are keeping accessible healthcare at the heart of communities; model 2 stands in the way of this by taking pharmacy out of the community and community out of the pharmacy. In Northern Ireland where the average population lives 1 mile from a community pharmacy, it simply doesn’t fit.”

Of concern overall, the unique position and realities of the pharmacy sector in Northern Ireland have not been considered in the consultation papers or supporting impact analysis, thus calling into question the validity, robustness and appropriateness of the proposals and evidence presented in terms of impact on the NI pharmacist profession and NI patients. In its response, the Forum has requested the undertaking of a full legal impact assessment in Northern Ireland and all other economic and regulatory factors in order to understand the size and nature of any impact of the proposed changes.

The consultation comprised over 20 questions covering areas including patient safety and accountability; business impact; different hub and spoke models; patient choice, transparency and information; market entry and competition concerns.

Pharmacy Forum NI staff took part in the DHSC pre-consultation stakeholder engagement sessions held throughout 2021 and has remained informed of the views and concerns held by other UK and NI pharmacy stakeholders. The DHSC hub and spoke dispensing consultation closed on 8 June 2022. The Forum will continue to monitor developments on this front.

Notes to Editors