The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has ‘no plans’ to allow community pharmacists to amend prescriptions, primary care minister Dame Andrea Leadsom has confirmed.

Dame Andrea was responding to a parliamentary written question from Conservative MP for Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord, who asked the government if it would ‘bring forward legislative proposals that enable pharmacists to amend prescriptions when their stocks dictate their ability to prescribe the type and weight of a drug’.

‘The Department has no plans to introduce legislative proposals to allow pharmacists to amend prescriptions,’ Dame Andrea responded last week (27 February).

She added: ‘Allowing pharmacists to take local action to alter prescriptions could have adverse impacts on patients, because pharmacies will not know the reasons why a medicine has been prescribed, or in what particular way.

‘Supplying an alternative without full oversight of supply issues could also create a knock-on shortage of the alternative and could thereby have the potential to exacerbate rather than mitigate a supply problem.’

A general election manifesto launched this week by four pharmacy bodies called for community pharmacists 'to be enabled to make simple, appropriate changes to medicines where this is safe and could help alleviate access issues'.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), Community Pharmacy England (CPE), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) have called on MPs standing in the election to support the manifesto and show their support for the sector.

Previous similar comments from the health minister have drawn backlash from the sector, with the RPS director for England James Davies noting that ‘no prescribers in the health service have “full oversight” of supply issues.

And at the time, Gordon Hockey, CPE director of legal, described the pharmacy minister’s comments as ‘a little disappointing’.

CPE and other pharmacy representatives have drawn attention to medicine supply issues at the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC)’s pharmacy inquiry last month.

And as recently as last week (26 February) HSCC chair and Conservative MP for Winchester Steve Brine suggested that it was ‘nonsensical’ that pharmacists were unable to make generic substitution where the exact prescription was unavailable.

Addressing pharmacy contractors via video link at the Sigma conference 2024, Mr Brine said that while Pharmacy First was ‘an important development’, there was ‘still work to be done to ensure it realise its full potential’.

In particular, he highlighted medicine supply issues he had recently observed in his local pharmacy where patients were told to ‘try another pharmacy’ or ‘go back to their GP to get a prescription for a different version of the same medication… despite the pharmacy having products in stock that would do the same job’.

He described medicines shortages as ‘an infection that runs the risk of spreading across the body of primary care, not just pharmacy’.

‘If we don't treat it the whole system will get sick and it will only get worse – for pharmacists, for patients and for the whole NHS,’ added Mr Brine.

And he suggested that sending patients back to their GP to get a new prescription in the case of shortages could undermine the government’s goal of using Pharmacy First to ease pressure on GPs.

‘There is potentially a simple solution to that which we have heard time and again in our inquiry: generic substitution,’ Mr Brine said.

‘Pharmacists are highly trained health care professionals and their skills need to be recognised and properly used. It seems nonsensical to me that all pharmacists, who are experts in medicine, don't have the autonomy to make the decision to provide another version of the same medication when the prescribed version is unavailable.’

The committee would ‘carefully’ consider the suggestion of generic substitution when making its recommendations for ministers, he added.

GPs should not have to spend their time reissuing prescriptions for what is essentially the same medication and condition. And the public shouldn't be expected, as was described to us in our inquiry, to play pharmacy bingo trying to source the medication they need,’ Mr Brine said.