QUESTIONS over the impending closure of a Wellington pharmacy have been put to the NHS organisation which issues dispensing licences in Somerset.

The Somerset Integrated Care Board (ICB) has been asked to look at whether it could ‘suspend’ Boots if it cut short its pharmacy lease on the Wellington Medical centre site.

The medical centre’s patient participation group (PPG) said that while Boots had announced it was closing in February, its lease with the GP practice ran until 2025.

PPG chairman Veronica Tatnall and vice-chairman John Cutting have asked the ICB in a letter to review the situation.

They wanted to know if the ICB could suspend authority for Boots to dispense prescriptions until the company had bought itself out of the lease, which would then avoid any immediate financial impact on the GP surgery.

Mrs Tatnall and Mr Cutting said the partners in the practice took out a mortgage to cover development of the Mantle Street premises and pharmacy building, and cutting short the lease would have ‘both direct and indirect consequences’ for the surgery’s finances and its 16,117 registered patients.

They said: “If Boots fail to honour their lease, then the shortfall will have to be covered from the cashflow of the medical centre.

“We know the percentage increase in the annual budget allocated to GP practices for primary care services has failed to match the annual inflation rate, a prime example of this is the rise in the minimum wage.

“Therefore, the medical centre practice is now faced with a failure of NHS funding to keep up or match inflation, aggravated by a loss in income from the Boots pharmacy lease.

“We recognise that there are costs to the practice that cannot be avoided, starting with the mortgage and running costs of the building and unavoidable bills connected to the functioning of the practice and providing a primary care service.

“The only variable that is an option to control is staff, and any financially-forced control of staffing has an immediate effect on the patient list.”

Mrs Tatnall and Mr Cutting told the ICB that currently there was a problem in recruiting GP-qualified medical staff and there were vacancies across Somerset.

The Wellington practice had been using locum doctors to cover consultation sessions with patients but a reduction in budget/cashflow could mean the practice was no longer able to afford the same level of service for patients.

The loss of the Boots pharmacy also meant the medical centre ceased to be a one-stop service where patients could visit the surgery, consult their GP or other medical staff, receive a prescription, and walk a few yards to have it dispensed - and the car parking was free.

They said Boots had told the PPG how patients could sign up to a Boots app to have prescriptions delivered to them free of charge.

Boots had also said its town centre pharmacy would open longer to match the opening hours of the medical centre.

However, the PPG believed the town centre premises would need to stay open even longer to allow time for patients to make the journey from the medical centre.

The group also pointed out that prescriptions for medication such as antibiotics which patients might want to start as soon as possible would inevitably be delayed if they waited for the Boots free home delivery.

Mrs Tatnall and Mr Cutting also highlighted how a two-stop journey would be required if patients had to go to a town centre pharmacy which would add to traffic on the roads and increase costs if they had to pay for car parking.

They also asked the ICB for a disability access report comparing the medical centre pharmacy with those in the town centre because it appeared not to have been considered by Boots.