Doubts cast over full deregulation of pharmacies

A question mark remains over reform of Britain's pharmacy market after Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt revealed she would not support the Office of Fair Trading's call for full deregulation.

The OFT's report recommended that rules restricting the number and location of pharmacies be scrapped, paving the way for supermarkets to grab more of the market.

However, Hewitt told the Commons last week there are 'limits to markets' and voiced the need for a more 'balanced package of measures'.

The Pharmaceutical Serv-ices Negotiating Committee welcomed Hewitt's comments, as many of its independent members fear their existence will be threatened by the buying power of supermarket groups.

A Department of Trade & Industry spokeswoman said the OFT's findings remain recommendations and no formal response has been made. She could not confirm when such a decision will be made, but the statutory 90-day consultation period ends in mid-April.