My client wished to open a new pharmacy in Rainham which is located near the London / Essex border. The area was already well established and it is unusual to see new pharmacies granted approval for such areas. In this case however, there had been a considerable amount of regeneration already and a new housing estate had been built to replace an old one which was no longer fit for occupation. Even with the regeneration the area was still by no means one that would be described as "wealthy" and a food bank operated beside the proposed pharmacy location.
My client had offered very long opening hours as part of their initial application. The real impact of those long opening hours did not become apparent to them until just before the hearing. I discussed how the pharmacy was going to fund its opening and ongoing operations and it became apparent that the owners (who also lived on the estate) would be personally financing the pharmacy and providing personal guarantees for the money that they would have to borrow. It was clear to me that my clients were passionate about providing an NHS pharmacy to the local population and the local residents were equally as passionate when expressing their desire for such a pharmacy.
Sometimes the lines between representing a client professionally and personal involvement in a case can become blurred. It would have been easier for me to simply proceed with the oral hearing and not discuss the potential financial impact of my clients' plans with them, but this did not feel like the right thing to do. After some very last minute and quite anxious discussions, my client agreed that it was foolhardy to go forward with an application that could end up bankrupting them personally if the pharmacy was unable to make a profit. The cost of operating for very long opening hours were therefore a significant personal risk.
On the morning of the hearing I made an initial application to amend the opening hours that had been provided by my client. Such an application is rare - and it should be - and I am unaware of another example of this having happened. The concern was that, by offering less hours, we were effectively reducing the strength of the application that we then still had to make.
The panel considered the request to amend the opening hours of the pharmacy and approved it. I then presented the case for the new pharmacy on behalf of my client.
Some weeks later we received a letter to say that Primary Care Appeals was seeking the views of objectors to the application (who had not attended the hearing) on whether primary Care Appeals should issue a final decision or remit the whole application back to NHS England to be considered again. This was always a risk for my client, but we argued that such a more would be highly prejudicial, not only to my client, but to patients. Further, it seemed to make no sense to send the application back to NHS England. They had refused it the first time with longer opening hours and were not going to change their mind with shorter hours. The objectors argued that Primary Care Appeals should not issue a decision and should send the application back to NHS England, however, they could provide no good reason for doing so.
In the end Primary Care Appeals accepted the request to amend the opening hours, approved the application and refused the objector's attempts to have the case remitted back to NHS England for a fresh determination. My client was understandably delighted and is progressing with their opening plans.
I am quite sure that the eloquent and passionate support for the application provided by our witnesses at the oral hearing was a key factor in this application being approved. I am also finding that local support is becoming more and more important as part of this type of application.