Backlash over decision to ‘privatise’ RLI pharmacy

Lancaster Guardian - Letters - RLI
Lancaster Guardian - Letters - RLI

Councillors are calling on Morecambe Bay’s health trust to reverse its decision to outsource hospital pharmacy services.

Last week, the board of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) agreed to contract the Royal Lancaster Infirmary’s outpatient pharmacy out to a private company, most likely to be Lloyds or Boots, according to sources.

But North Lancashire Green Party said that the trust had not even tried to work out the costs and benefits of a wholly owned subsidiary option, one that would be run by the trust and keep all the profits within the NHS, and dismissed the idea anyway.

Coun Tim Hamilton-Cox said: “It’s 18 months since the trust put out a notice to tender for the outpatient pharmacy contract, stated then to be worth £20-25m.

“So the trust has had plenty of time to do the detailed work on the ‘in-sourced’ alternative.

“It seems that, despite the efforts of the board of governors and the voice of service users to persuade the trust to re-think its approach, the trust management had decided from the outset that it wanted to use a private sector company.”

More than 100 hospital trusts have outsourced outpatient services to one of the big chemist chains.

But Coun Hamilton-Cox stated that around 10 have set up their own ‘arms-length’ wholly-owned subsidiaries and the detail on some of those, as at Sunderland and Warwick – where the subsidiary has been awarded a Social Enterprise Mark – point to a viable alternative which recycles all the cash benefits within the NHS.

A spokesman for UHMBT said: “Both options were given full consideration by the Trust board. The option which we have decided to pursue allows us to increase the number of pharmacists on our hospital wards – supporting our patients get better more quickly.

“The chosen option also helps us tackle recruitment and retention difficulties that we have experienced for several years in relation to new clinical pharmacists.

“The alternative option would have required setting aside substantial public funds to manage and run a private wholly owned subsidiary and did not address the key issue of improving the patient experience”.

The pharmacy contract is still part of a tender process.