Pedlars of pharmaceuticals - both prescriptive and over-the-counter- are likely to be enthused by the UK government's latest foray into melding the state's National Health Service with private business.

Not only is drug dispensing now a common feature within UK supermarkets, it seems that doctors are about to set-up instore treatment clinics as well.

In an interview with Retail Week magazine, Britain's third largest supermarket chain, J Sainsbury, says it has held high-level discussions with the UK Department of Health, the outcome of which is a scheme to install NHS treatment centres in its outlets.

Sainsbury envisages rich pickings in introducing medical surgeries at the 161 stores in which it already runs pharmacies. The first practices are expected to open by the end of 2006.

Signalling the demise of smaller independent pharmacies, the supermarket says it will open a further fifty instore dispensing units over the next twelve months. But not all these will be large enough to accommodate medical units.

The Blair administration - among whose senior ministers is Lord David Sainsbury, a member of the supermarket's controlling family - has published a White Paper floating plans to allow private companies to run NHS medical practices in inner-city or deprived areas.

One reform likely to be welcomed by the general public will permit patients to register with surgeries near to their place of employment - as opposed to their home address - as at present.

Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff