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Dr Philippa Whitford MP speaking in Parliament as seen on Parliament Live

Serious Shortages Protocol

I have twice now raised the issue in Parliament of the UK Government continue to try to sneak out significant legislation in preparation for Brexit without any scrutiny. Last week, I asked the Leader of the House about the Serious Shortages Protocol and today I asked the Secretary of State for Health.  The SSP, in the event of a shortage of medicines, would allow pharmacists the ability to change prescriptions without the knowledge of the prescriber. This is very concerning as it would allow a pharmacist to change the strength or quantity of a prescribed drug and not only change it to a generic drug but also to a different drug that they consider a reasonable replacement – without need to discuss it with the GP. It is the Prescriber who takes legal responsibility for their prescription so I was shocked to find that, on contacting the General Medical Council, they hadn’t even been consulted about this! Such a dramatic reversal of medical responsibility certainly shouldn’t be put into legislation without debate!

For many patients, using an alternative drug may not be a problem but some have had many trials of drugs to find one that is suitable. In most cases, I would expect that pharmacists will want to discuss the replacement medicine with the GP as they will not have access to their medical history – indeed, patients with complex conditions may wish to insist on this – but this legislation suggests the UK Government is expecting so many shortages that contacting GPs for this will become difficult. One advantage we have in Scotland is that electronic prescribing means GPs can send additional prescriptions if needed without the patient going back to the surgery but it still has the potential to cause chaos, confusion and, worryingly, complications. Needless to say, the responses I got have not alleviated my concerns.

Click on the links below to see my questions:


About the author 

Heather Knox

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