Six pharmacies across the north-east could be closed as part of a wide-ranging review by NHS Grampian.
The health board has today launched a consultation its dispensing services at Rhynie, Gardenstown, Udny Station, Skene, Portlethen, and Auchenblae.
Under the current arrangements, patients in these areas visiting their GP can collect prescribed medicines at the practice.
But if the health board decides that any of the communities do not require the service, patients will be forced to get their prescriptions filled elsewhere – which could have a major impact on those living in rural areas.
Last night, villagers raised fears that elderly residents would struggle to get to a chemist elsewhere to pick up their medicine due to a lack of public transport, and accused NHS Grampian of “neglecting” rural communities.
A spokeswoman for the health board, however, insisted the consultation would help identify any “serious difficulties” residents would have, as well as the general “overall impact” of any potential changes.
The review comes 18 months after a long-running row over dispensing services at Haddo Medical Group.
Previously, patients at Pitmedden and Methlick were able to get their medication directly from their doctor, rather than travel to Tarves Pharmacy.
But the owner of the pharmacy took NHS Grampian to the Court of Session, who ruled the arrangement was unlawful, forcing the health board to rule that only those with an “acute” need, who had no access to a car on the day of their appointment, would be able to get their prescription direct from their surgery.
Now NHS Grampian believe this latest review will determine if it is acting legally, by requiring north-east practices to dispense to its patients outwith their communities.
Health bosses can only allow a practice to do so for patients who would have “serious difficulty” in accessing prescriptions from a standalone pharmacy.
A spokeswoman for the health board said: “The review will therefore seek to determine which patients of each of the associated practices continue to have serious difficulty in accessing prescribed medicines and appliances from a pharmacy.
“The review will also seek to establish the overall impact of any potential changes on the practices involved with the aim of ensuring sustainability and a cross-system approach.
“Patients who are affected by dispensing GPs will be involved and they will have the opportunity to have their say, the public involvement team are around all of that and patients will receive information on the consultations when needed.”
But in Gardenstown, where residents are already contending with the “short-term” closure of its doctors surgery, there is a fear that the village is becoming isolated.
Last night, resident Ron Beaty claimed the village was being “decimated” by the NHS Grampian.
The village’s surgery closed its doors last year following the departure of two doctors. The closure was only supposed to last for six weeks, but the building is still shut 10 months on.
Mr Beaty said: “They haven’t really been honest since they closed the surgery. As regards to closing the pharmacy, I expect that will probably happen. It’s shocking.
“It will certainly leave Gardenstown isolated. We’ve got a lot of elderly people here and it’s not as if everyone has a car – it feels as if we’re being neglected and nobody seems to care.”
Paul Manning, chairman of the Tap O Noth community council in Rhynie, said: “We have a gross lack of public transport here so if we were to lose the service it would be a disaster.
“Members of the community are quite upset about this at the moment, but it is very important that individuals put their own complaints in as this seems to give more evidence to the fact that we need the services greatly.
“Really, if we were to lose the service I don’t know what we could do, it would be a case of looking for alternative measures.”
Mearns man James Stuart urged people to have their say on the consultation, adding: “It would definitely be a big worry for the community if we were to lose our dispensing GP. A lot of the work by the NHS in Mearns has been very positive but this would be a big step back.”
To find out more about the consultation, visit www.nhsgrampian.org/involvingyou and click projects and consultations. The closing date for all responses is October 1.
What is the NHS Grampian review?
NHS Grampian agreed to launch the consultation at a board meeting last month.
Currently, the vast majority of north-east residents are prescribed medicine at the GP and collect it from their local pharmacy.
It is only those who have serious difficulties reaching a pharmacy that the board can ask the GP to provide the dispensing service – which is currently carried out by nine practices.
However at the meeting, members ruled out reviewing the arrangements at Tomintoul, Glenlivet and Strathdon as they are at least 11 miles from their nearest pharmacies, and are poorly served by public transport.
But last night, North East Tory MSP Alex Johnstone argued many people living elsewhere in the region would find it “far too difficult” to access services elsewhere.
“It is vital that local people take part in the consultation on the remaining six practices and make their views known,” he added.
“We would encourage as many people as possible to do so.
“These services can be very important for people living in rural areas and we know that the loss of a dispensing service could represent a real blow for some of these communities.”
Campaigner for Save Tarves Surgery, Chris York, said: “These rural GPs that are able to dispense, it is how they keep their branch surgeries open.
“That is exactly what happened in Tarves, as soon as the dispensing was taken away, we lost the surgery.
“This review should be a worry for anyone involved and they need to make sure they lobby NHS Grampian to keep those dispensing rights in place.
“The loss if the Tarves surgery has had a very negative impact on the services available.”
The findings of the consultation will be reported back to a review group by the end of October, before a steering group considers any changes. The board will then discuss any proposals in March next year.