The government is consulting on proposals which would allow pharmacists to substitute prescriptions without contacting GPs and dispense reduced quantities of medicines as it seeks to avert a drugs shortage post-Brexit.
The health secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was discussing changes to medicines rules in order to pre-empt what could be a significant shortage in the event of a no-deal scenario.
The DHSC’s plans to “support the continuity of supply of medicines in a no-deal scenario” were leaked to The Times.
Under the ‘serious shortage protocol,’ pharmacists would be given powers to dispense a therapeutic equivalent or generic equivalent of a medicine without talking to the patient’s GP.
Pharmacists would also be able to dispense a reduced quantity of a medicine or an alternative dosage form so patients can retain access to medicines if a shortage occurs.
The PSNC, who have been discussing the introduction of the protocol and amendment to the Human Medicines Regulation 2012 with the DHSC through its Brexit Forum, said it was “broadly” supportive of the measures.
“Where actual shortages of branded medicines occur, our preferred option would be to allow pharmacies to generically substitute certain medicines,” the PSNC said.
“Generic substitution would see pharmacies dispensing cheaper generic equivalents in place of certain prescribed branded products that have been agreed at a national level.
“This would mitigate issues caused by shortages for selected products which can be easily substituted with an equivalent generic product.”
However, the PSNC warned that “the feasibility of enabling generic substitution within a short space of time may make this option difficult to implement.”
A Royal Pharmaceutical Society spokesperson said: "We welcome recognition of pharmacists supporting access to medicines. Making sure pharmacists are able to provide patients with the medicines they need is our priority. Pharmacists are already helping patients to get hold of medicines in short supply every day.
"We are working with the Department of Health and pharmacy to make sure pharmacists are supported to provide an appropriate alternative should there be a shortage of certain types of medicines.
"This serious shortage protocol will enable community pharmacists to dispense in accordance a protocol rather than contacting the GP. We support pharmacists using their professional judgment to decide on what medicine to dispense. Pharmacists will work with doctors to make sure any communication about changes to medicines is clear."
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