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    British Retailers React to OFT Ruling on Pharmacy Industry

    LONDON - Britain's competition watchdog has concluded that the strictly controlled sale of prescription drugs should be opened up to new entrants, after a 15-month investigation into the retail pharmacy industry, British news agencies report.

    LONDON - Britain's competition watchdog has concluded that the strictly controlled sale of prescription drugs should be opened up to new entrants, after a 15-month investigation into the retail pharmacy industry, British news agencies report.

    "Regulations currently controlling entry to the industry should be lifted to allow any registered pharmacy with qualified staff to dispense NHS prescriptions," the Office of Fair Trading said in a statement.

    Strict entry restrictions have kept the number of pharmacies in the UK static at 12,250.

    Removing those restrictions will allow supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco the chance to muscle in on the GBP 18.7 billion market.

    Asda, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said Friday that it welcomed the report. Should the OFT's recommendations be implemented, Asda said it was ready to accelerate its pharmacy opening program, and develop new flexible family-friendly schedules to encourage pharmacists currently not working, back to employment.

    The recommendation is seen as a blow to Britain's biggest pharmacy chain, Boots. The company said Friday that it will take advantage of deregulation to introduce pharmacies into more of its stores and to re-site existing locations.

    The government, led by the Department of Trade and Industry, now has 90 days to respond to the concerns expressed by the OFT.

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