Two health boards in Wales are considering moving their hospital outpatient dispensing to external community pharmacy contractors, prompting accusations of NHS privatisation.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Cardiff Vale Health Board say outside pharmacy contractors may be used to provide hospital outpatient dispensing — a model widely adopted in hospitals in England.
But public service trade union UNISON opposes the plans. Paul Summers, head of health in Wales at UNISON, said: “Patient needs will not be the first priority for private companies focused on generating a profit and privatising pharmacies could open the way to wholesale privatisations of other NHS Wales services.”
He suggested that if hospital pharmacy was under pressure, the “sensible” solution was to keep the services in-house and recruit more dispensing staff.
In a statement, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said it was in the “early stages” of exploring opportunities to work in partnership with community pharmacies to provide outpatient prescription dispensing within its main hospitals — Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
“This is not a proposal to privatise our hospital pharmacies,” the statement said.
It added that transferring outpatient dispensing from in-house to community pharmacy would free up time for hospital staff to carry out other work, such as improving dispensing on wards and supporting patients in casualty and mental health services and elsewhere.
“Currently, patients may have to wait a significant length of time for outpatient prescriptions,” the statement continued. “A dedicated outpatient dispensary, run by a partner who specialises in community pharmacy services, would significantly reduce waiting times and provide outpatients with a better overall experience.”
Meanwhile, Cardiff Vale Health Board said it was proposing delivering outpatient dispensing with a “third-party partner” at two of its hospitals — University Hospital Llandough and the University Hospital of Wales.
“By working in collaboration and involving our specialist pharmacists to provide training and input for clinically complex prescriptions, the new service delivery model will improve waiting times, allow the option of delivery of medicines closer to patients’ homes and release staff to patient-facing work in ward areas,” it said, adding that the move would also help to reduce “turnaround times and improve quality of communication when patients are discharged from hospital”.