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HSCC: ‘Nonsensical’ that pharmacists lack generic substitution powers

HSCC chair Steve Brine has said that allowing pharmacists to supply a different type of the same medicine could be a “potentially simple solution” to shortages, in a video address to the Sigma conference.

“Medicine shortages are an infection that runs the risk of spreading across the body of primary care, not just pharmacy,” chair of the health and social care committee (HSCC) Steve Brine told the 2024 Sigma conference yesterday (February 26).

Mr Brine said that the HSCC, currently in the middle of its pharmacy inquiry, is looking at making recommendations to the government to address medicines shortages.

Read more: ‘We have to be realistic’: Government could impose new contract, CPE warns

Speaking via a recorded video, Mr Brine said that medicines shortages threaten to “undermine” the government’s goal for Pharmacy First, which is to free up GP time, as well as public confidence in the new service.

He said that the “true benefits of Pharmacy First” would be in vain if patients needed to return to their GP due to stock shortages in pharmacies.

The public “shouldn't be expected…to play pharmacy bingo” to access their prescribed medication, he added.


Generic substitution


Mr Brine told delegates that generic substitution was “potentially a simple solution” to these supply issues.

He said that it was “nonsensical” that pharmacists lack the “autonomy” to supply a different type of the same medication when confronted with shortages.

Read more: Pharmacists altering prescriptions could ‘exacerbate’ shortages, says minister

And he added that the HSCC is “carefully considering” making recommendations to the government on generic substitution, as well as “addressing challenges in the supply chain itself”.

Mr Brine said that the HSCC’s “key recommendations” would aim to reduce the time pharmacists and the public spend dealing with medicines shortages.

It comes after pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom last month claimed that pharmacists could “exacerbate” medicine supply issues if prescribing rules were changed to let them alter a prescription to supply an alternative.


“Funding challenges”


Meanwhile, Mr Brine noted that community pharmacy’s funding had “fallen by over 30%” and said that the HSCC recognised that Pharmacy First provided “new money for new work” that did not solve “existing funding challenges”. 

He said he expected that the committee would identify funding as one of the “key challenges” in need of a solution from the government.

Read more: Pharmacy bodies ‘press’ government for greater powers to amend prescriptions

“Maximising the contribution” of community pharmacy is crucial to the “future sustainability of the NHS”, Mr Brine added.

Also speaking at the conference yesterday, the pharmacy negotiator announced that negotiations for the next one-year pharmacy funding deal have begun - but admitted that a new contract may not be in place by April or could be imposed by the government.

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