HEALTH campaigners handed over an 8,000-signature petition to express their anger at the proposed sell-off of hospital pharmacies across Morecambe Bay.
They delivered their petition to the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust in Kendal yesterday (Wednesday) and last night held a public meeting to rally opposition.
The hospitals trust put the pharmacy contract – worth £20million to £25million – out to tender in March, inviting bids to run the NHS pharmacies for five years at Westmorland General Hospital, Kendal; Furness General Hospital, Barrow; and Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
The move has angered campaign group No Health Sell-off at Morecambe Bay. They say they are ‘furious’ that a tax loophole means that pharmacy companies such as Boots and Lloyds do not have to pay 20 per cent VAT, but NHS providers do, making them less competitive. They have raised their concerns with the trust about ‘a lack of transparency’ surrounding the sell-off.
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Campaigner Cat Smith told the Gazette that people on the streets of Kendal, Ulverston, Barrow and Lancaster who signed the petition were very concerned about the pharmacy sell-off. “The impression I’m getting is people are really worried about the future of the NHS,” she said.
“It’s something that comes into our lives at the happiest moments when we have babies, and it’s also there at the toughest times, and people have a really emotional tie to it. Any perception it’s under threat creates emotion in people.
“The number of contracts that have gone out to private companies has trebled in the last four years. I think people think it’s the beginning of the end and eventually are we going to move to a healthcare system based on what we can afford to pay, not medical need.”
The pharmacy tender document states that the contract will be awarded to “the most economic tender”. As well as dispensing prescriptions for outpatients, the emergency department, day cases and oral chemotherapy, the pharmacies would be expected to offer services such as blood pressure, hearing, eye and diabetes tests.
The deadline for bids expired on April 24 this year.