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  • Pharmacists could be able to prescribe 'low-risk' drugs under new legislation

    Pharmacists could be given powers to prescribe medicines in low-risk situations as part of new legislation being put forward by the government.

    The Medicines and Medical Devices Bill 2019/2020, which was first announced in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 and was introduced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on 13 February 2020, would also enable hospitals to use patient DNA to manufacture tailor-made drugs in an effort to improve access to treatments for patients with rare cancers and brain tumours.

    It follows plans set out in the October 2019 Queen’s Speech to introduce legislation to allow a wider range of healthcare professionals in the NHS to prescribe ‘low-risk’ medicines.

    A DHSC statement published alongside the Bill said the legislation will “allow the sector to increase the range of professions able to prescribe medicines in low-risk circumstances, as midwives and paramedics do now with pain relief, and physiotherapists with anti-inflammatories”.

    “This will be with appropriate safeguards and clear limits on what medications are eligible,” it added.

    The DHSC confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that the list of healthcare professionals given the powers to prescribe these types of medicines could “potentially” include pharmacists, subject to a consultation.

    It added that the definition of ‘low-risk’ circumstances would be consulted on.

    “This allows the NHS to make the very best use of its highly skilled workforce, to save patients’ time and reduce unnecessary GP appointments,” the statement added.

    Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “Given that pharmacists have greater expertise in drug use than any other profession, this would appear to be a good move.

    “We have yet to see the detail, but thought should also be given as to how to make better use of pharmacy independent prescribers in community settings.”

    The new legislation will also enable hospitals to use patient tissue and DNA samples “to tailor innovative treatments for individual patients when other medicines have failed,” the DHSC said.

    It also said the bill will allow hospitals, in their existing facilities, “to develop drugs that have a shelf-life of minutes and wouƒld otherwise be unavailable to them”.

    “This has the potential to streamline access to treatments for patients with rare cancers and brain tumours.”

    Aamer Safdar, pharmacy education, training and workforce development team lead at Barts Health NHS Trust, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the new legislation “is good news for patients and for researchers as it will allow innovation in the growing area of personalised medicines”.

    The government’s impact assessment of the Bill, published the week after the Bill, paves the way towards allowing legally separate pharmacies to set up shared hub-and-spoke dispensing services

    It said the Bill would enable secondary legislation that would allow large multiple pharmacies with existing dispensing hubs to “expand their capacity” and “offer chargeable prescription assembly services to independent and small multiple pharmacies”.

    Previous government proposals to introduce cross-firm hub-and-spoke dispensing in 2016 were shelved after pharmacy bodies expressed concern over the safety of the plans.

    However, in its impact assessment of the medicines Bill, the government noted that the “the costs and benefits [of the model] remain uncertain, as do some details around the policy design”.

    Any secondary legislation to implement hub-and-spoke dispensing is expected to be “accompanied by a full economic appraisal”, it said.


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