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Counterfeits battle could see POM scanners in pharmacies by 2017

Practice The NPA has stressed the need for a clear timetable to avoid a "rushed and disorderly" implementation of European proposals on counterfeits, which could see barcode scanners installed in every UK pharmacy by 2017.

Every pharmacy in the UK will have a barcode scanner to identify individual packs of prescription-only medicines by 2017 if European anti-counterfeiting plans go ahead, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has said.

But the government must confirm the timings for implementation, the NPA warned this week, because a lack of clarity could "hobble preparations" for pharmacists.  

An outline of the European Commission's plan for all packs of prescription-only medicines to contain a unique identifier code was expected in 2014, as part of a falsified-medicines directive to prevent counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain, the ABPI said.

"The worst possible scenario for pharmacy is delay caused by disagreement, followed by a rushed and disorderly implementation" Gareth Jones, NPA

More on counterfeits

Pharmacy Voice urges MHRA to be tougher on       counterfeits

ABPI hits out at MHRA negativity on European       anti-counterfeiting plans

MHRA in spat with Europe as it calls for more       flexibility in anti-counterfeiting plans

If the plans went through next year then, by 2017, every pharmacy could a have scanner in place that would authorise the codes at the point of dispensing, ABPI technical affairs manager Mike Murray said last week (March 6).

The scanning system would require "a significant investment in technology, both by ourselves and through the pharmacy distribution chain", said Mr Murray in a presentation on how the falsified-medicines directive would be implemented.

Funding for the scheme would have to be decided by each EU member state, Mr Murray added.

But preparations for installing the system would be obstructed if the MHRA and the European Commission continued to send out contradictory signals about whether scanners would be introduced in pharmacies, said NPA public affairs manager Gareth Jones.

"The worst possible scenario for pharmacy is delay caused by disagreement, followed by a rushed and disorderly implementation," he told C+D.

Community pharmacy needed two to three years to implement the system and test the scanners and software, he added.

Last year, the MHRA sent a letter to the European Commission in which it argued that scanning all prescription-only medicines could result in "disproportionate expenditure" and "harm public health by diverting funds from services that offer greater health benefits".

The MHRA said it was unable to comment on the likelihood of scanners being installed by 2017, as negotiations in Europe were ongoing.

Do you think point-of-sale barcode scanning would be an effective weapon against counterfeits?

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M Yang, Community pharmacist

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Medicines Act says it's the pharmacist's duty to ensure the quality of the medicine dispensed and that it's not adulterated etc. Looks like whoever is proposing the POM scanners is following it to the letter, but failing to appreciate that it was written back when pharmacy was quite a different profession. There are a lot more medicines being prescribed and dispensed now than 40 years ago. Does it mean we're to scan every single box? Unless we're to be handsomely remunerated (say, £1 per scan) we simply don't have the time for that kind of nonsense.

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

I have looked back in my files and noted that the last discussion on this subject was 30th November last year. A total of 4 people commented on the article from Pharmacy Voice advocating this subject.

As pharmacists, we are sleep walking into another job that we will have to do, that we must not do and is not our responsibility.

We buy from reputable wholesalers, eg Alliance Healthcare etc, it is their responsibility to supply us with the medicines that we have ordered. If they supply anything else, then they are in breach of contract. If the Qualified Person at the wholesaler is negligent in not properly checking where the medicines are sourced, this is their responsibility totally, NOT ours.
We must fight this additional waste of our time, which we would never be paid for.

O J, Community pharmacist

The only 2 scenario (which are highly improbable) I can think of when pharmacies will be useful in scanning barcodes is only if the drugs are switched in the time frame from the point of collection for the drivers at the warehouse to the drop off point at the relevant pharmacies. What are the chances of that happening? i believe next to nothing.

Secondly, if the pharmacist is a rogue professional and dispenses counterfeits. Again this situation may be unlikely to occur in UK.

Nigel Cox, Senior Management

Scanning in pharmacy cannot "prevent conterfeit POM's entering into the supply chain" it can only help in preventing them leaving the supply chain. With so little understanding and knowledge by politicians and industry leaders it is very worrying indeed that they can make these half baked decisions. Both community and hospital pharmacy need to work together on this, you should not be held responsible for policing the supply chain.

K.J P, Locum pharmacist

Totally agree Nigel .... We order from reputable
Wholesalers so let them screen counterfeit products
... We have enough on our plates ..!!
Don't want another role to deal with !!

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

Whilst the principle is sound and well intentioned, I do not understand why Community Pharmacies need to be involved. The issue is in the integrity of the supply chain. Therefore, the problem lies with manufactures and wholesalers. These two parties need to fund and deploy this system. Why should we spend money and time which, make no mistake, will reduce dispensing efficiency to our detriment!

I for one, will not install any system into my pharmacies, unless, I am adequately compensated for both tangible and INTANGIBLE costs of deploying such a system.

Therefore, the MHRA, The BPWA and the ABPI need to get their thrifty little hands in their pockets before they even begin to de-facto tie us into their plans!!

Have a good weekend, ladies and gentlemen.

Eilish Middlehurst, Student

There are ways that counterfeit medicines could slip into the supply chain between the manufacturers and the patient however. Checking in Community Pharmacy would be the most fail safe place.

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

Dear Eilish,
Could you explain more fully how this 'slipping into the supply chain' might happen?

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