Pharmacy in the United Kingdom

Pharmacy in the United Kingdom has been an integral part of the National Health Service since it was established in 1948. Unlike the rest of the NHS pharmacies are largely privately provided apart from those in hospitals, and even these are now often privately run.


The Pharmacy Act 1868 limited the sale of poisons and dangerous drugs to qualified pharmacists and druggists.

The advent of the NHS had an immediate beneficial effect on the pharmaceutical industry.[1] In 1960 there were proposals that the private patients of general practitioners should be enabled to receive their drugs free on the health service, but they were not implemented.[2]

The supply of drugs in the hospital service represented about one-tenth by value of the supply through the retail pharmaceutical service in 1965.[3]

There was a reduction of more than a quarter in the number of pharmacies in the community between 1963 and 1979. According to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee at that time over 4,000 pharmacies in England and Wales dispensing less than 24,000 prescriptions per annum were losing money on NHS services.[4]

NHS pharmacies are governed and paid for their NHS work under a standard contract, which was last modified in 2005. This modification enabled pharmacists to be paid to conduct Medicines Use Reviews for people with multiple long term prescriptions. There are also New Medicine Services, which are intended for patients who have started on long term medication, such as asthma treatment.[5]

Dispensing Doctors

In rural areas GPs are permitted to dispense medication if there is not a pharmacy within a mile of the surgery.[6] There are 1,290 dispensing practices across the UK serving 8.8 million patients in 2015.[7]


Retail pharmacies and pharmacists are regulated by the NHS, under the provisions of the Pharmacy Act 1954 and The National Health Service (Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations, which prevent new pharmacies being opened without permission. This was done by the Family Health Services Authority and then by Primary Care Trusts. Now regulation is by NHS England and its Pharmaceutical Services Regulations Committees.[8]

Local Pharmaceutical Committee

Local Pharmaceutical Committees were established in every area in 1948. Each is a representative committee of persons providing pharmaceutical services as defined in Section 44 of the National Health Service Act 1977. Each committee has about 12 members. There are now about 80 in England.[9]

Retail Pharmacies

89% of the UK population live within a 20-minute walk of their local pharmacy. A majority of the population visit a pharmacy at least once every 28 days.[10] In 2014 more than 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed in England. This was 34.5 million more than in the previous 12 months and 378.4 million more than in 2004. The total net ingredient cost of prescribed items was £8.9 billion. 89.9% of all items dispensed in England were free of charge. In Scotland the total number of items dispensed in the community in 2014–2015 was 101.1 million with a net cost of £1.2bn.[11]

Since at least 1979 there have been proposals that pharmacists should develop their role of giving advice to the public.[12] NHS England announced a pilot scheme in July 2015 for GP practices in England to employ around 300 pharmacists to provide clinical care and relieve pressure on GPs. They will monitor patients with long-term conditions, create medicine plans and provide advice and expertise on day-to-day medicines issues.[13]

In London pharmacies are used to deliver Flu vaccination. In 2013/4 108,700 vaccinations were delivered by 1,089 pharmacies in the capital. Medicines Use Reviews in patients homes are delivered by pharmacists in Croydon.[14]

In August 2015 it was announced that retail pharmacies would be given access to NHS patients Summary Care Records after a pilot of 140 pharmacies in Somerset, Northampton, North Derbyshire, Sheffield and West Yorkshire, demonstrated “significant benefits.” Pharmacists have to ask for a patient’s permission to view their record.[15]

See also


  1. "The Drug, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries". Socialist Health Association. 1954. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  2. "Drugs and the Health Service". Socialist Health Association. Today and Tomorrow Publications. 1960. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  3. Powell, Enoch (1966). March 11, 1966 A new look at Medicine and Politics. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  4. Royal Commission on the NHS Chapter 8. HMSO. 1979. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  5. "Bringing services closer to the patient". Health Service Journal. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  6. "Around 1,000 patients set to lose their surgery following green light to pharmacy plans". West Briton. 9 July 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  7. "About the DDA". Dispensing Doctors Association. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  8. "The National Health Service (Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 1992". Socialist Health Association. HMSO. 1992. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  9. "About LPCs". Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  10. "Bringing services closer to the patient". Health Service Journal. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  11. "Prescription items dispensed in England rise by 3% in 2014". Pharmaceutical Journal. 10 July 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  12. Royal Commission on the NHS Chapter 8. HMSO. 1979. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  13. "NHS England launches £15m pilot to employ pharmacists in GP practices". Pharmaceutical Journal. 7 July 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  14. "Bringing services closer to the patient". Health Service Journal. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  15. "Tesco, Superdrug and Boots to be given access to NHS medical records". Retail Week. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
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