Under current law, dispensed and checked prescriptions cannot be given to patients if the responsible pharmacist is away and alternative pharmacist cover is not available.
However, in March last year, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) issued a joint statement with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), stating that the regulators would support pharmacy professionals who depart from the law in emergency circumstances linked to the COVID-19 pandemic when this is in “the patients’ best interest”.
The GPhC and PSNI used the example of if the responsible pharmacist must suddenly leave to self-isolate and no pharmacist cover can be found.
On such occasions, the regulators would “expect there to be access to a pharmacist by phone or video link to provide direction for the remaining staff in the pharmacy”, they said.
The regulators said at the time that “this approach should only be adopted for a short-time period, where other options have been exhausted”. They agreed that “considering the potential effects of the current pandemic, it would be in the patient’s best interest for medicines already dispensed to be supplied from the pharmacy rather than not supplied at all”.
Guidance issued “in context” of pandemic
In an exclusive interview with C+D yesterday (June 1), Mr Rudkin said that he does not think the guidance referred to above will “survive” the pandemic.
“It was issued in the context of the pandemic [at a] particularly sudden and very significant increase in pressure on pharmacy… and [it] should not be taken as an indicator of the direction of travel,” he added.
The GPhC will begin a review of all pandemic-related statements “when the time is right”, Mr Rudkin said. It will remove some announcements “where appropriate”, to differentiate between “what remains GPhC policy going forward” and “time-bound” statements.
“Good” that supervision talks are “owned by profession”
Asked about the resumed talks on supervision in pharmacy, Mr Rudkin said that it is “good that this debate is being owned by the profession, rather than being driven by government or the regulator”.
He welcomes the profession’s decision to look at these issues “afresh”, following changes to pharmacy practice and the “expectations that the health service has of pharmacy and of the pharmacy professions”.
Last month, C+D revealed that three employer bodies had formed a cross-sector group to “refresh” discussions around changes to supervision in pharmacy.
Another aspect of pharmacy supervision that is subject to change is the “legal framework around the role of the responsible pharmacist and the superintendent”, Mr Rudkin said.
“I think that will proceed [at] the earliest opportunity and of course, that will be an important piece of the jigsaw when it comes to an up to date, very transparent and accountable set of governance arrangements that we need to have in pharmacy practice,” he added.
In 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) launched a consultation as part of which it sought to clarify the roles of responsible pharmacists and superintendent pharmacists. One of the questions asked whether the pharmacy regulators could make exceptions to the rule dictating that responsible pharmacists can only supervise one pharmacy “at one time”.
A spokesperson told C+D today (June 2) that the DH is committed to publishing its response to the consultation and it will lay it out in Parliament with the draft legislation as soon as possible.