Community pharmacists are lobbying to take part in the government’s national identity card scheme by offering a biometric identity service.
The National Pharmacy Association wants its members to be able to collect photographs and fingerprints for people applying for an ID card or biometric passport.
The association’s chief executive, John Turk, met with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to discuss the proposal on Wednesday. The move came on the day Smith announced that Manchester would become the first city in the UK where people can sign up for ID cards from this autumn.
Turk told the home secretary that community pharmacists were first and foremost healthcare professionals and that the Department of Health was keen for community pharmacies to take a greater role in public health.
However, he also said that most people lived within 500 metres of a community pharmacy which also made them the “ideal setting” for providing an ID service for identity cards and passports.
He added: “Community pharmacies are located in the heart of their communities so they could help make the process of applying for an ID or passport especially convenient.”
Two other bodies, the Post Office and the Photo Marketing Association International,
have also expressed an interest in providing biometric identity services.
Cards are being introduced for airside workers at Manchester and London City airport from this autumn followed by the public in Manchester with the government predicting the cards will be available nationwide by 2012. The cost of the cards will be £30 for the first two years with an additional cost to the applicant of getting a card via a post office or pharmacy.
A spokesperson for the NPA told EHI Primary Care that pharmacists would only start to offer the service in Manchester if they felt it was a good move for their businesses.
She added: “If we think it’s financially viable for members we will recommend it but then it will also be dependent on pharmacies themselves deciding if they want to take it up as a business prospect.”
The plan for Manchester is that people who want an ID card can register on the DirectGov website and will then be told later in the year how they can get their card. Initially it is likely to involve a visit to the Manchester passport office to be interviewed and have their fingerprints and photograph taken. The Home Office said cards will not be available in shops and post offices for another two years.
The NPA is the trade body for community pharmacies with more than 4,000 community pharmacy members across 12,500 outlets including large high street chains and small independent pharmacies.
Turk said pharmacies would be “a natural fit” for the home secretary’s requirements that identity documents should be collected by trusted high street businesses that could operate under strict standards set by the Home Office.
He added: “Surveys repeatedly show that pharmacists are trusted. A recent Reader’s Digest survey put trust in pharmacies highest in the UK than in any other European country and in the UK pharmacists took second place as one of the most trusted professionals.”
Smith said the National Identity Service was a vital investment in the long term future of the UK’s economy and security.
She added: “While private companies will clearly benefit from the increased footfall from offering this service their customers will benefit from being able to quickly provide their biometrics while they are out doing their shopping.”
The Conservative Party has pledged to scrap the scheme if it wins the next election claiming the £5bn scheme is a waste of money.