THE UK Government has been accused of attempting to pass legislation with minimal scrutiny which could see pharmacists given powers to change medical prescriptions without consulting with a patient’s GP.

The legislation would give Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP the power to place any drug Serious Shortage Protocol in the event of supply problems.

It also affords pharmacists legal power to change the strength, quantity or make of any drug in short supply or to dispense another drug they deem to be a reasonable replacement.

The legislation was lodged by way of a Statutory Instrument on January 18. If no complaints are raised after 40 days of a Statutory Instrument being lodged, it is passed.

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Writing in today’s Sunday National, SNP Health and Social Care Spokesperson and MP for Central Ayrshire Dr Philippa Whitford raises concerns that the lack of scrutiny on this type of legislation could lead to issues for patients.

“Last week I discovered that one of these Statutory Instruments (SI) gives power to the UK Health Secretary to place a drug on to the Serious Shortage Protocol if there are supply problems. This gives the pharmacist the legal power to change the strength, quantity or make of any drug in short supply or to dispense a totally different drug which they think is a reasonable replacement,” Whitford writes.

“Controversially, however, all of this is without the need to discuss the options with the patient’s GP or prescriber. This is concerning, as the pharmacist cannot see the patient’s records to select a good alternative and avoid something that has caused significant side effects in the past.”

Whitford made two attempts to raise an urgent question on the issue in Parliament on February 6 and 8, but was not selected by the Speaker.

The Statutory Instrument could be revoked if a debate is secured before February 27.

Listing the impacts of Brexit upon medical provision, she also writes that Brexit will come at the cost of some 150,000 EU staff across the UK.

At present, Scotland’s nursing vacancy rate is almost 5%, while England’s is over 11%.

Further impacts were identified via surveys conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2017, which suggested that up to half of all EU doctors were considering leaving the UK, with a significant increase in EU nurses leaving and a 90% decrease in EU nurses registering to work in the UK.

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The BMA, which is the professional association and registered trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, previously responded to the legislation on serious shortage protocol.

Dr Andrew Green, BMA GP committee clinical and prescribing lead, said: “GPs and their teams have to contend with medicine shortages on a daily basis, much to the frustration of staff and their patients, and there are obvious concerns that a no-deal Brexit could exacerbate existing issues.

“This legislation is intended to minimise disruption to patients, GPs and pharmacists in the event of a serious shortage, building on how GPs and pharmacists are already working together locally to deal with current issues.

“However, as we made clear in the response to the consultation, we do not believe that it is appropriate for pharmacists to change patients from one drug to a different one without authorisation from an independent prescriber.

“Crucially, it is imperative that the specific details of the new rules and their practical application are developed by clinicians, and clearly communicated to doctors, patients and pharmacies.”

A GMC spokesperson said: “Whilst it is for Government to make decisions on legislation and public policy, we are considering what advice we can issue as and when the SI is passed, in line with our remit to advise doctors on professional standards and ethics.”