GP dispensing looms in Ireland

pharmacist with patient explaining medicines

The Irish Pharmacy Union is concerned by a proposal to have GPs dispense medicines directly to patients, which it says is not in the interest of patients or their safety.

An article in the Sunday Business Post on 15 May was titled “GPs to slash drug prices by cutting out pharmacies”.

It claimed that “GPs are developing a radical plan that would see doctors dispense medicines directly to patients, cutting pharmacists out of the supply chain”. The National Association of General Practitioners has already received legal advice on the plan, the Post reported.

The Irish Pharmacy Union has slammed the idea, saying that prescribing and dispensing of medicines have been separate professional functions for generations.

“As separate but related professions, GPs and pharmacists have always adopted a professional partnership approach to caring for their communities,” it said in a statement today.

“International research indicates that 7-8% of prescriptions contain at least one error.

“Therefore, having a prescription checked by a pharmacist before dispensing is essential to protect patient safety.

“Pharmacists detect prescription errors, drug interactions and adverse reactions, and ensure that patients are taking the right dose of the right medicine at the right time and in the right way.

“For GPs to prescribe and also dispense medicines to patients for profit would create a serious conflict of interest by introducing a financial incentive to increase prescriptions to patients,” the Union says.

“Patients would legitimately fear that where their GP was profiting directly from the choice of medicine prescribed, their treatment may be influenced by the profit motive.

“This is not in the interests of the patient or of the healthcare system which must ultimately cover the cost.”

Pharmacists are the experts in the use of medicines, whether prescription or non-prescription, it says.

“Pharmacies’ sourcing, storage and supply of medicines and the associated activities and recordkeeping are all governed by extensive legislation and regulations, as well as binding professional standards laid down by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

“Pharmacists are accountable for all their activities to the PSI as regulator and pharmacies are subject to regular and ongoing audit and inspection by the PSI, HSE and Health Products Regulatory Authority to ensure full legislative compliance, quality assurance in medicine use and patient safety at all times – regardless of cost.

“Until GPs have the same training in pharmacology, pharmaceutics and other relevant subjects as pharmacists and their practices are subject to the same rules, regulations and audit and inspection regimes, they cannot expect to safely undertake the professional activities of pharmacists.”

Last week a British GP’s site editor also suggested that if pharmacists could offer professional services, GPs could dispense.

The Pharmacy Guild’s Tim Logan told the AJP that pharmacists’ role is a vital one.

“The more steps there are in the process, the more chances you have to detect errors,” Logan told the AJP.

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