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'Changes to GSL rules risk treating pharmacies like petrol stations'

The government’s ‘rebalancing’ board should think carefully about how it tinkers with responsible pharmacist and GSL legislation, says legal expert David Reissner

The Department of Health and Social Care’s board set up to ‘rebalance’ pharmacy legislation is currently consulting [until September 11] on a proposal that hospital pharmacists should have a defence to dispensing error prosecutions if the hospital has appointed a chief pharmacist. Surely this impending change in the law is the time to adopt the same title for community pharmacies, instead of the archaic title ‘superintendent pharmacist’?

There are, of course, more important things in the consultation paper than pharmacy titles. These include elaborating on the legal duties of superintendents and drawing a line between the legal obligations of superintendents and those of responsible pharmacists (RPs).

We have had superintendents for 100 years, but medicines legislation doesn’t say very much about their role – only that the business must be under their management “so far as concerns the keeping, preparing and dispensing of medicines” other than general sales list (GSL) items. In contrast, the law imposes specific duties on RPs to secure, in relation to the sale and supply of all medicines, the safe and effective running of the pharmacy. In addition, RPs must establish and maintain procedures – typically standard operating procedures – for the safe and effective running of the pharmacy where they are the RP. 

The rebalancing board proposes that superintendents must in future be “a senior manager of a retail pharmacy business” – someone who plays a significant role in the making of decisions relating to all medicines. Superintendents would have a legal duty “to secure that the business is carried on in ways that ensure its safe and effective running” in relation to the sale or supply of all medicines (including GSL medicines). In addition, the board would shift the legal responsibility for establishing and maintaining procedures from RPs to superintendents.

I’m not persuaded the law should dictate a company’s operational structure. As for GSLs, the board’s position is ambivalent. On the one hand, it wants to extend the legal duty of superintendents to GSL medicines. On the other, it emphasises that pharmacies should be able to sell GSL medicines in the absence of the RP, “in keeping with…other retail outlets”.

Insisting on treating pharmacies like petrol stations or grocery stores does pharmacy no favours, and this isn’t a good time for pharmacies to duck out of any role relating to medicines. When the public enters a pharmacy for a GSL medicine, they are entitled to expect that they will receive appropriate advice on whether and how to take it. The board should insist that GSL medicines should not be sold in the absence of a pharmacist unless staff involved in the sale are suitably trained.

David Reissner is a consultant at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP ([email protected])

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