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COVID-19 act could let all pharmacists in NI temporarily prescribe

Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland could be given prescribing powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020, it has been announced.

  • Pharmacists in Northern Ireland who are not independent prescribers cannot currently prescribe medicines
  • The DH could enable them to prescribe some drugs in response to the pandemic, although there are “no plans at this stage” to enact this
  • This extension of prescribing powers does not apply to England, Wales and Scotland

Under the Coronavirus Act, pharmacists on the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) register could be “annotated as independent prescribers if needed in response to the pandemic”, a spokesperson from the Department of Health (DH) in Northern Ireland told C+D last week (May 7).

However, “this has not been enacted and there are no plans [to do so] at this stage”, the spokesperson added.

The extension of the prescribing powers for pharmacists would only apply to Northern Ireland if the government decided to activate it.

“Prescribing and supply”

Additional pharmacists could be required to “assist with the prescribing and supply of medicine” in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, according to explanatory notes on the Coronavirus Bill, which became an Act on March 25.

The act enables the temporary registration of pharmacists by the PSNI and allows the regulator to “temporarily annotate a pharmacist’s record or the record of a group of pharmacists in the register when directed by the DH that an emergency has occurred or is occurring”.

“The purpose of the annotation would be to extend the power to prescribe certain drugs, medicines and appliances to people who would not be authorised” to do so under the existing pharmacy provisions in Northern Ireland, according to the explanatory notes.

Canice Ward, head of the medicines regulatory group at the DH in Northern Ireland, confirmed earlier this month (May 1) that pharmacists in Northern Ireland could be allowed to supply medicines in schedule 2, 3 and part 1 of schedule 4 without a prescription “in a pandemic situation”.

This will apply only in instances where the patient has been prescribed the medication before and only if the powers – made possible by amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations (Northern Ireland) – have been “activated by an announcement from the Department [of Health]”. Until then, “there is no change in practice”, Mr Ward specified.

The same powers had previously been announced for pharmacists in England, Wales and Scotland.

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