Pharmacists have expressed doubts over calls to create a new pharmacist-only medicine category that would require the direct intervention of a pharmacist.
Responding to an MHRA consultation on the process for reclassifying medicines, the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) proposed a new ‘Pharmacy+' category to increase public safety.
In its letter, which was endorsed by the RPS, the GHP expressed a "major concern" over the lack of opportunity for healthcare professionals to oversee sales of certain medicines.
"What value would [another category] add? Are we at risk of downgrading the existing P category as a result?" Graham Phillips Manor Pharmacy Group (Wheathampstead) Ltd, Hertfordshire
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The new category would sit above P medicines, and require pharmacists to make the sale.
But the response provoked a mixed reaction from community pharmacy, with experts voicing fears that it could result in a "bureaucratic nightmare" or the downgrading of the existing P category.
The GHP argued that under the current system, there appeared to be "an automatic progression" for medicines to go from POM to GSL, potentially posing a threat to public safety.
"Consequently there is, in our view, a need for a Pharmacy+ status for medicines that should only be sold to the public with the direct intervention of the pharmacist, as this would improve patient access to urgent medicines and maintain public safety," it said.
"It is our view that many products granted GSL status in recent years should have been subject to further self-medication guidance by healthcare professionals," the GHP added.
The comments were backed by the RPS response to the consultation, which stressed that professional advice should always be available where medicines are sold or supplied. "General retail stores will not be able to offer the expert advice available in pharmacies," it said.
But Graham Philips, owner of Manor Pharmacy Group (Wheathampstead) Ltd, Hertfordshire, questioned whether there was a need for an entirely new category. "Most pharmacists already have an informal [Pharmacy+] category," he said.
"Especially with switches, [they] will always say, ‘these are the products I'm worried about and I want to be consulted on those', and that's done informally."
"What value would [another category] add? Are we at risk of downgrading the existing P category as a result?" Mr Phillips asked.
His comments were echoed by Jonathan Mason, clinical advisor in medicines for North-East London and the City, who welcomed a category "aimed particularly at the pharmacist" but worried that implementing it could be "a bureaucratic nightmare for regulators".
"You can just buy pretty potent medicines over the counter… so I would welcome it in that respect," he told C+D. However, he warned having four medicines categories would put the UK out of step with Europe. "That goes against the European regulations where you only have two categories of medicine – prescription and non-prescription."
How would you feel about the introduction of a Pharmacy+ category?