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Pharmacy’s MP champions explain to C+D why they oppose shortage powers

Jonathan Ashworth insisted he is a "champion of community pharmacies"

Two outspoken supporters of community pharmacy in parliament have told C+D why they voted to prevent pharmacists being granted powers to resolve serious medicines shortages.

The Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019 order – which came into force on February 9 – includes provisions to allow pharmacists to dispense an alternative in accordance with a “serious shortage protocol” that could be announced by the government – rather than the prescription and without contacting the GP – in the event of a national medicines shortage.

The change to the regulations narrowly avoided being revoked – by 292 votes to 240 – in parliament on Monday (March 18).

The motion was tabled by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth – who has a track record of holding the government to account for its approach to pharmacy funding and has visited several pharmacies while on the campaign trail.

Mr Ashworth explained his decision to C+D yesterday (March 20), arguing that the legislation “deserved full scrutiny and consultation” and “the way ministers tried to implement these changes looked like a worrying power grab”.

He described himself as a “champion of community pharmacies”, but said that having “talked to community pharmacists directly as a local MP, it’s clear there has been concern over a lack of clarity from the government”.

“It’s important ministers fully communicate how the protocol will work,” Mr Ashworth added.

“What’s more, many patient groups have concerns about these changes, particularly those representing epilepsy and HIV patients, so it’s important these points were raised in the debate.”

“In no way a criticism of pharmacists”

Labour MP Julie Cooper – a former pharmacy owner who has regularly championed the sector, and even appeared on a C+D podcast – also voted to revoke the shortages powers.

She stressed to C+D that her vote was “in no way a criticism of pharmacists”.

“The regulations have been arrived at with little or no consultation,” she explained. “There has been no attempt whatsoever to discuss these proposals with GPs, whose cooperation will certainly be needed.”

“Further to that, there are many unanswered questions: crucially who will be liable should a serious issue arise? Will it be the government, the GP or the pharmacist who made the change?”

“It is totally disingenuous of this government – which has for so long disregarded the skills and expertise of community pharmacists – to suddenly want pharmacists to deal unilaterally with [its] failure to make adequate provision; the very same pharmacists that aren’t trusted to have read and write access to patients’ records.”

C+D reported yesterday that a separate legal challenge to the shortages powers is ongoing.


Would you be happy to dispense an alternative under a government 'serious shortage protocol'?
Not sure. It would depend on the specific protocol
Yes, I would be confident dispensing an alternative (quantity/dose/form/therapeutic equivalent) as designated by the government
No. I would never be comfortable dispensing an alternative (quantity/dose/form/therapeutic equivalent) without consulting the GP
Total votes: 118
Would you be happy to dispense an alternative under a government 'serious shortage protocol'?

D G, Community pharmacist

I would feel comfortable in dispensing an alternative strength and quantity where the prescribed strength is unavailable. However, I would not feel comfortable in prescribing an alternative drug in a community pharmacy without having access to the patients records to establish that the alternative drug is suitable eg. records of allergy, previous treatment failure, indication for drug etc. 

Daniel McNulty, Superintendent Pharmacist

My position is ambivalent.

If any legal responsibility is addressed and I am remunerated for this none-core service then I will consider it.

I have no doubts about my own decision making but will not place myself at any risk without support and pay.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Its's all a little late to be asking for remuneration now after years and years of pleading to provide services for free to 'get business'.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I agree with you wholeheartedly Daniel. Remuneration is important, and so is a robust framework that protects Pharmacists to conduct the aforementioned changes without risk of prosecution with the exception in clinical neglect.

Furthermore, I don't believe pharmacy in its current form is a suitable environment to be making these decisions. The dispensary has far too many distractions and processes going on as it is.

Is this possible that this is yet another instance of an example of government really not understanding what pharmacy does?

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

no problem dispensing alternative quantity/dose/form

the problem i have is with therapeutic equivalent !

also one would have to make sure if a different strength was dispensed that the patient was capable of following the new instructions. ie 2 x250mg instead of 1 x500mg



Leon The Apothecary, Student

Certainly, with some patients, there is a level of proven doubt they are capable of taking their current instructions!

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

I wonder who's paying them?

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Both these MPs should be sign posted to the article where GPhC has increased the registration fees irrespective of an extensive CONSULTATION.  If they can reverse the decision of the GPhC based on the overwhelming response to their consultation, then may be we can support them for asking the GOVT for a detailed consultation. Otherwise it is just politics. As an Opposition Party they think they have to oppose whatever the Govt proposes. Shame. 

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