Brexit: Chemists could get emergency powers to swap drugs and dosages to prevent shortages under no-deal outcome

Doctors groups concerned about prescriptions being changed without GP input and lack of time to consider impacts of contingencies

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 07 December 2018 12:40
Matt Hancock explains how pharmacists could substitute drugs or reduce doses to prevent shortages in a no deal

Pharmacists could be given emergency powers to block prescriptions or substitute in alternative medicines to prevent drug shortages after Brexit, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock confirmed the government is consulting on the contingency plans in the event that post-Brexit disruption leaves parts of the country without sufficient medicines.

Invoking the “serious shortage protocols” would allow GP prescriptions to be overruled and medicines to be prescribe a reduced quantity, and to change dosages or drug.

The plans extend to fast-tracking lorries carrying medicines at grid-locked ferry ports, and chartering planes to fly drugs in if border disruption gets too severe.

Mr Hancock defended the Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit but stressed that the potential problems were a reason to back Theresa May’s plan in the crunch 11 December vote.

The Department of Health and Social Care plans to “support the continuity of supply of medicines in a ‘no-deal’ scenario” were leaked to The Times.

The contingency plans “could be issued in case of a serious national shortage and would enable community pharmacists and other dispensers to dispense in accordance with the protocol rather than the prescription without contacting the GP”.

Ministers would order pharmacists to dispense a “reduced quantity” of the medicine, an “alternative dosage form”, a “therapeutic equivalent” or a “generic equivalent”.

However, the Royal College of GPs and British Medical Association raised concerns about prescriptions being changed without GP input, and the short time frame for developing the plans.

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “this is something we are consulting on” and “it’s about having the appropriate clinical flexibility”.

He said it was about “making sure that the rules are aligned to what is best practice, to make sure that if there is, on any individual area – whether it is to do with Brexit or not – if there is a shortage of an individual drug, that pharmacists can make their clinical and professional judgments”.

Mr Hancock insisted that his department was “on track” with arrangements for a no-deal Brexit.

But he added: “The deal allows us to both deliver on the referendum result but do so in a way that allows both the economy to function but also these logistical problems not to arise.”

As part of the plans “we are working on ensuring that we have aviation capacity”, he said.

Asked if that would mean chartering planes to fly in medicines, he said: “We are working on exactly how we are going to do that, but that is part of the work we are doing.”

Mr Hancock added that there had been work to fast-track lorries containing medical supplies through ports such as Dover if there were problems.

“If there is serious disruption at the border we will have prioritisation, and prioritisation will include medicines and medical devices,” he said.

The government is also buying up refrigeration units to stockpile medicines which need to be kept cold, he added.

MPs will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan on Tuesday, with NHS leaders warning that they will have to begin spending on no-deal contingency plans before Christmas if it does not pass.

Additional reporting by PA

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