Our GP blogger Dr Livingstone is rolling his eyes at the pervasive myth that pharmacists are unqualified to take on emergency shortage prescription powers


How refreshing that there has been some Parliamentary argy-bargy about something other than Brexit. I’m referring to the motion to revoke the recent Serious Shortage Protocols (SSP) legislation on Monday evening (18 March). True, the legislation itself was probably Brexit-fuelled in the first place, but even so, just for a moment, this felt very much like a governmental non-euro zone. Less refreshing are the tired old stereotypes that the debate threw up.

In one corner we have doctors who complain bitterly about overwork yet also dig their territorial heels in whenever they reckon their prescribing rights are being undermined. And in the other, we have pharmacists who are constantly referred to as ‘experts in medicines’ while simultaneously being constrained from demonstrating just that.

A quick refresher: an SSP will only be used in the case of severe short supply of a specific medicine and will enable the pharmacist to dispense a reduced quantity, an alternative form, a therapeutic equivalent or, failing all else, an alternative product – all according to a clear, clinician-formulated protocol. Cue much GP harrumphing and protestations that this represents pharmacists sneakily acquiring prescribing rights. Come off it.

If this is pharmacist-initiated prescribing, then painting-by-numbers is impressionist art. If anything, the legislation didn’t go far enough: a shopkeeper could follow a protocol and, as my pharmacist friends frequently and correctly tell me, they are so much more than that.

So how about letting pharmacists exercise their skill, knowledge and judgement, for once, rather than straitjacketing them in a guideline?

Some good news, though: the motion was defeated by 292 to 240. So common sense prevailed in Parliament, and that’s not a phrase you hear much these days.