Residents lodge complaint with ICB after proposal to reopen a closed pharmacy is rejected

Despite more than 900 signatures petitioning to keep it open, the former Boots on Southmead Road in Bristol closed in January 2024.
Closed shop shutters

A Bristol pharmacist is appealing a rejected application to take over a former Boots pharmacy site, backed by locals who have simultaneously lodged a complaint with Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB) over the decision process.

The former Boots on Southmead Road, Bristol, was one of 300 closures the multiple announced in June 2023 as part of a ‘transformational cost management programme’.

Despite a petition to keep the pharmacy open receiving more than 900 signatures, the pharmacy closed in January 2024.

Tanzil Ahmed, who runs the Greenway and Shirehampton pharmacies nearby, submitted an application proposing to open a new pharmacy at the site, including plans to open on Sundays, but the South West Pharmaceutical Services Regulations Committee declined the application, citing a “significant number of pharmacy providers within 0.9 miles of the proposed location”, with a “wide range of opening hours” and “good public transport links”.

The committee concluded that granting the application “would not confer significant benefits on people sharing a protected characteristic … [and] would not lead to significant benefits by virtue of innovation”.

Its report also revealed that multiple pharmacies in the area objected to the application.

Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Ahmed said: “We would have expected, with the level of support locally and the application being relatively strong, for it to be considered in detail.

“I’m disappointed with the outcome because the case for the application is strong, particularly given local opinion. Even though there was no gap identified in the pharmaceutical needs assessment (PNA), the application was based on unforeseen benefits — which are not captured in the PNA given the local closure of pharmacies — meaning there is very limited weekend provision in North Bristol.

He added: “There are a lot of people with protected characteristics, a lot of elderly people, as well as a large deprived population… They failed to consider the majority of [other] pharmacies are not accessible to local residents and as highlighted by the local support, these pharmacies are struggling to cope with the pharmaceutical demands placed upon them following the closure of the Boots at the proposed site… [and] the nearest Sunday opening pharmacy does not represent reasonable choice of pharmacy provision.”

The former Boots was estimated to have dispensed around 4,500 items a month. Ahmed said that while it “wasn’t massively busy”, it “wasn’t a quiet pharmacy” either.

He stressed that a pharmacy “is more than just dispensing prescriptions and provides a number of other services and advice to the local population which they rely on”.

Ahmed submitted an appeal on 26 June 2024 to NHS Resolution, the Department of Health and Social Care arm’s-length body that resolves disputes in the NHS.

A spokesperson for NHS Resolution told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it would take 15 weeks for the organisation to issue a determination on the papers and 25 weeks for an appeal hearing.

NHS Resolution’s decisions can only be set aside by the High Court.

The local Neighbourhood Watch group has meanwhile lodged a complaint with the ICB over the committee’s decision and process, claiming that the committee decision was based on “incomplete and/or erroneous data” and “has not followed due process”.

Residents have complained that the committee “made false assumptions” about patient mobility, that evidence provided by patient users was “ignored” and patients were not properly involved in the decision.

Neil Goldsmith, chair of the Cherington Road Neighbourhood Watch, said: “The whole process is really opaque. It’s shrouded in secrecy. The public is feeling disenfranchised and disadvantaged and this process, even when we’re supposed to be included, we’re excluded.”

A spokesperson for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICB said: “We recognise the concerns of local people where pharmacy closures have taken place and are committed to ensuring that all residents are able to access a community pharmacy.

“Consideration is given to the location of existing pharmacies and GP surgeries in the area to facilitate patient choice, with decisions also factoring in the opening hours, travel distances and transport links to other pharmacies.

“Applications to provide new community pharmacy services in the Bristol area are considered by the South West Pharmaceutical Services Regulations Committee, who apply the relevant pharmaceutical regulation for that application.

“This application was considered by the committee in May and, while recognising considerable local support for the application, the committee was not able to support the case for siting a new pharmacy in this location once existing local provision was taken into account.”

Residents in the south west of England have been hit particularly hard by pharmacy closures as a result of workforce shortages, with some launching campaigns to keep their local pharmacies open.

In August 2024, NHS Resolution is expected to publish its decision over the opening of a pharmacy in Glastonbury, Somerset after the decision to approve the opening was appealed.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2024, Vol 313, No 7987;313(7987)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.322662

1 comment

  • Bharat Nathwani

    This is a crazy situation - and the process for new applications is not fit for purpose.


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