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BACKGROUND: There have been calls for greater collaboration between general practitioners (GPs) and community pharmacists in primary care. AIM: To explore barriers between the two professions in relation to closer interprofessional working and the extension of prescribing rights to pharmacists. DESIGN OF STUDY: Qualitative study. SETTING: Three locality areas of a health and social services board in Northern Ireland. METHOD: GPs and community pharmacists participated in uniprofessional focus groups; data were analysed using interpretative phenomenology. RESULTS: Twenty-two GPs (distributed over five focus groups) and 31 pharmacists (distributed over six focus groups) participated in the study. The 'shopkeeper' image of community pharmacy emerged as the superordinate theme, with subthemes of access, hierarchy and awareness. The shopkeeper image and conflict between business and health care permeated the GPs' discussions and accounted for their concerns regarding the extension of prescribing rights to community pharmacists and involvement inextended services. Community pharmacists felt such views influenced their position in the hierarchy of healthcare professionals. Although GPs had little problem in accessing pharmacists, they considered that patients experienced difficulties owing to the limited opening hours of pharmacies. Conversely, pharmacists reported great difficulty in accessing GPs, largely owing to the gatekeeper role of receptionists. GPs reported being unaware of the training and activities of community pharmacists and participating pharmacists also felt that GPs had no appreciation of their role in health care. CONCLUSION: A number of important barriers between GPs and community pharmacists have been identified, which must be overcome if interprofessional liaison between the two professions is to be fully realised.