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COVID-19: Pharmacists could supply controlled drugs without script

Emergency measures have been proposed to give pharmacists the power to supply certain controlled drugs to patients without a prescription during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Home Office intends to “put in place emergency measures” to prepare for the high demands that COVID-19 will place on the health service, home secretary Priti Patel said in a letter to Professor Owen Bowden-Jones, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on Wednesday (April 1).

The measures would allow pharmacists to supply medicines in schedule 2, 3 and part 1 of schedule 4 under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 to patients without a prescription – in cases where the patient is “receiving them as part of ongoing treatment”.

The measures would also allow the supply of these controlled drugs under a serious shortage protocol (SSP), which would mean patients could be treated with alternative products where prescribed items are unavailable or in short supply.

The third measure the Home Office intends to implement is enabling pharmacists without prescribing rights to “change the frequency of instalments on instalment prescriptions without the immediate need for a new prescription from a prescriber”.

"Harms and risks”

The legislation will “help secure access to controlled drugs within the healthcare system in a pandemic and where there is a serious risk to human health,” Ms Patel said.

The risks associated with granting greater access to controlled drugs “have been taken into account”, she added.

The measures would apply in England, Scotland and Wales. Ms Patel added that the “Department of Health in Northern Ireland has said that it supports the proposals and indicated that it will introduce similar measures”.

The Home Office has asked the ACMD to “advise on the potential harms or risks relating to these three measures” and balance the “harms and risks” of not going ahead with the changes in the “current exceptional circumstances”.

The government intends to implement the legislation “as soon as possible”, Ms Patel said. No specific date has been given but Ms Patel asked the ACMD to respond by today (April 3).

What do you make of the proposals?

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