Bedford Borough has less than the national average of pharmacies, the mayor has claimed.
Mayor Dave Hodgson made the claim during a debate on the council’s draft Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment (PNA) at this week’s Health and Wellbeing Board.
He said that there are 18.3 community pharmacies per 100,000 residents, compared to 22.5 nationally.
“So once again, we seem to be behind the curve and worse than average,” he said.
“If we’re trying to encourage people, as the first port of call, to go to their pharmacy rather than to their GP or the drop in centre, shouldn’t we be saying within [the PNA] that actually we need to get up to the same level as the national average.
“That would be about three to four new community pharmacies across the borough,” he said.
Ian Brown, chief officer for public health, said he understood that the national policy is for fewer, larger pharmacies, with extended opening hours and a wider range of services.
He added that pharmacies are rewarded on a volume basis for prescriptions and an increase of pharmacies in an area could mean less income for individual pharmacies, destabilising their business model.
“So it’s not unfortunately as straightforward as saying we need to ensure that we have at least the national average in pharmacies,” he said.
Mayor Hodgson said: “If you talk to some of the people in the villages access to pharmacies [you’ll hear that] you’ve got to get in a car and drive probably in excessive of ten miles.
“That doesn’t seem like easy access,” he said.
Mr Brown replied: “I take your points when it comes to villages, and we need to be clear that a PNA that states there are no gaps in the central provision is not a barrier to a pharmacist deciding to start a business and get approval from NHS England.
“As long as there is sufficient activity that they can sustain that business in that area.”
Mr Brown said: “It comes back to the point of how much public feedback and engagement there is in the process.”
The initial PNA survey held last year received 364 responses from the public.
“But if that message isn’t coming out that a particular part of borough is struggling to access a pharmacy, then we can’t evidence in the PNA that there is a specific need,” he said.
A public consultation on the draft PNA started on June 1 and runs until July 31.