Since the Regulations dealing with Distance Selling / Internet Pharmacy applications were updated to allow NHS England to consider whether the service provided would be safe and effective we have been receiving more and more instructions on this type of application and in 2016 we represented clients in half of all appeals that went to the NHS Litigation Authority. Rushport has secured more new Distance Selling contracts for clients than any other consultant or solicitors firm and we have also been successful in opposing applications where we were instructed by existing local pharmacy operators.

For applicants this type of application can be particularly difficult to get right. When somebody wants to apply for a 'normal' standard hours contract, they make their case to NHS England or the NHSLA and those bodies will decide whether or not they are satisfied that the applicant has provided enough evidence to demonstrate the need for the new pharmacy to be allowed to open. With internet pharmacy applications the process is completely different. An internet / distance selling application is much more about "getting it right" than trying to convince NHS England or the NHSLA that you should be allowed to open. If you do get it right then you MUST be allowed to open and the opinion of the NHS about the merits of Distance Selling contracts is (or should be) irrelevant.

We recently worked on two interesting types of distance selling application.

In the first application our client had already tried twice and failed twice to have an application approved. He couldn't work out what NHS England really wanted to see. Even though he had corrected all the mistakes that he made in his first application, new reasons for refusing him were found in the second. We were instructed on the third application and a number of local pharmacies objected. Two in particular submitted very detailed objections and hired solicitors to represent them and submit pages of queries. We were able to satisfy the NHSLA that our client's application did in fact meet all the requirements of the Regulations and the application was approved. It was notable that we not only had to provide all the relevant information and SOPs to meet the Regulations, but we also had to point out that many of the objections simply were not relevant.

The second application was somewhat different. Our client already had a distance selling contract, but he wanted to start offering MURs and NMS services to patients. We made the necessary application to the NHS England Local Area team and they eventually replied and refused the application with a one line email. As there is no appeal process for this type of application we wrote to NHS England and pointed out that they were required to provide reasons for their decision. NHS England provided very basic reasons, but then also refused our client's amended application… for what they said were different reasons, but which they wouldn't provide. At that stage we decided that enough was enough and firmly pointed out to NHS England that they were being deliberately unhelpful and we take the case to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and ask them to intervene. NHS England then decided that they would comply with our request for detailed reasons for refusing the application, which turned out to be an erroneous reference to the old "PCT"! After a quick change in wording the application was finally approved and our client can now provide MURs and NMS from their internet pharmacy.