Closure of St Albans pill packing unit is a bitter pill to swallow

CLAIMS made by the NHS to justify the closure of a pill packing unit in St Albans are misleading says the Lib Dem councillor objecting to the scheme.

Cllr Chris Brazier said suggestions made by the NHS in last week’s edition that the unit on Highfield Lane used by the Pharmaceutical Packing and Assembly Service (PPAS) did not currently comply with modern standards and that private companies could offer a faster and more efficient service, were at odds with the information he had.

He said: “Every two years the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) visit and check the standards of this unit and last visited in October 2010. There was no suggestion then that it had failed to comply.

“Similarly the NHS say they can find the same service cheaper but won’t tell the PPAS how much cheaper, so they can’t offer anything competitive. It’s a very unfair way to behave and appears to be an attempt to cover up the fact that they’re selling this land to make money to balance their books, regardless of the impact it has on people.”

Cllr Brazier said he was sceptical about the NHS’s phrase that “suitable alternative employment” would be offered and said he wanted more specific information about the future of the PPAS employees.

But the NHS have rejected his claims and say it is not for the PPAS to negotiate competitive prices because it was not a commercial company.

Jan Filochowski, chief executive of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WWHT) said: “In order to make this service commercially viable, the trust would need to make a significant investment. The decision to close the PPAS unit was based on the trust’s need to ensure that its resources are directed first and foremost to patient care.

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“To clarify, the PPAS is a department of the trust, not a commercial company.

“As employees of the trust, PPAS staff have employment rights and, in line with the trust’s management of change policy, every effort will be made to secure suitable alternative employment for them.”

Earlier this month, WHHT withdrew a planning application for six homes on the site to review and resubmit it at a later date.

Cllr Brazier said he felt planning permission was being sought to push up the price of the land and create money for the NHS.

Residents firmly oppose plans to replace the unit with housing. One very concerned homeowner, who wished to remain anonymous, said if the houses were built it would be detrimental to her living environment.

She said: “We will lose all the light at the back of our property and in the garden. The planning officers have visited us and they agree.

“Suggestions that the level of traffic would be reduced by replacing the unit, which is not a factory, with six homes is ludicrous. As it stands, we don’t hear a peep from the staff or the unit. There’s very little traffic. Six four-bedroom houses, however, will have more than one car.”

She added: “We look out over some beautiful trees which will go if these plans get approval. When we tried to extend our property we were told these trees were protected by preservation orders.”