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High Court quashes second request for judicial review of prescription switching protocols

A legal campaign group has lost a renewed effort to challenge changes to the law that mean the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) can allow pharmacists to switch patients’ medicines during a shortage in line with a government protocol.

On 26 March 2019, the campaign group The Good Law Project had a High Court hearing with Mr Justice Supperstone to argue its case that the government’s initial consultation on legislative changes — allowing pharmacists to substitute medicines in short supply without consulting the prescriber — was “insufficient and unlawful”.

The consultation proposed changes to the Human Medicines Regulation 2012, which mean the government can issue protocols asking pharmacists to respond to a medicines shortage in one of four ways, dispensing: a reduced quantity, a therapeutic equivalent, a generic equivalent or an alternative dosage form of the drug.

Mr Justice Supperstone determined that the consultation, which was open for one week in December 2018, was “fair and adequate”.

In court documents, he said: “I do not consider it arguable that it was irrational for the secretary of state not to have consulted a wider group of patient interest organisations or, in the circumstances, having regard to the identity of the bodies consulted, and the time constraints involved, unfair for the length of consultation to be as short as it was.”

The Good Law Project first launched legal proceeding s in February 2019, but the initial request for permission for a judicial review was quashed after the court found that it was “not arguable that it was unfair for the response period to be as short as it was”.

The initial court decision preceded a debate in parliament in which shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the legislative changes as “an extraordinary power grab” by health ministers.

The Good Law Project said it will continue its challenge of the DHSC’s “hasty and dangerous changes to prescribing practice”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206373

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