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Brine: New shortages powers likely to increase pharmacists' workload

New regulations to allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative in cases of serious medicines shortages are likely to increase their workload, the pharmacy minister has said.

The Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019 order – which comes into force on Saturday (February 9) – includes provisions to allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative in accordance with a “serious shortage protocol” announced by the government – rather than the prescription and without contacting the GP – in the event of a national medicines shortage.

Dispensing alternatives in these situations would mean pharmacists' workload “would likely increase”, Steve Brine told parliament last week (January 31).

However, it would also reduce pressure on both pharmacists and GPs, “as pharmacists would not need to liaise with GPs every time they get a prescription”, while GPs would “not have to see all patients to issue a new prescription”, he added in a written response to Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris.

Granting pharmacists power to dispense alternatives to cope with shortages “will therefore free up GP time to spend [with] the patients who most need it”, Mr Brine said.

Clinical group to advise ministers

Responding to a separate question on the shortages powers, Mr Brine stressed that the government would only announce a protocol “if clinicians think it is appropriate” and “when other mitigation measures have been exhausted”.

It is in the process of creating a “national, clinically chaired group” with “national oversight at senior doctor level” to advise ministers on when pharmacists should supply an alternative, he added.

What do you make of the new shortages powers?

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