Community pharmacists are increasingly concerned about the use of automation within pharmacy and its impact on patient safety, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has said.  

In an open letter, Mark Kozio, chairman of the PDA, urged the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to ensure that new technology is introduced into pharmacies in an ‘evidence-based way’ which protects ‘professional standards and patient safety'.   

This comes as the PDA have seen a ‘significant increase’ in calls from pharmacists concerned about online pharmacy service provision and the deployment of certain automation technologies as part of the medicines supply operations.  

In the letter, Mr Koziol told Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPhC, that automation in pharmacy is ‘an area in which we are not aware of the existence of any independently verified or published safety data nor any professional consensus.’ 

He added: ‘As these ‘systems’ become more popular and relied upon and particularly if left unchecked, it is easy to appreciate the sheer scale of the concerns felt by pharmacists over the possibility of breaches of GPhC regulations and standards and the potential safety risks to a significant and increasing number of patients.’  

Although Mr Koziol acknowledged the need for technology in pharmacy, he stressed that its use 'must not outpace patient safety considerations and pharmacy regulation must be evolved quickly and enforced in ways that cater for this rapidly emerging reality'. 

He highlighted specific concerns from pharmacists, including how clinical safety and supervision can be passed onto and completed by online pharmacy providers when a pharmacist is unable to check a prescription.  

Mr Koziol also said that some pharmacists were concerned that pharmacist clinical checks were bypassed, and prescriptions were being put through to ‘automation’ to hit prescription volume targets.  

He said some were concerned that patients were being given assurances that pharmacists are making clinical checks, when the checks are actually automated by a machine and no pharmacist is involved.  

‘This has resulted in uncertainty over the entire integrity of the responsible pharmacist system and the safety it was supposed to deliver,' he said.   

Mr Koziol also revealed that members were worried about internet pharmacy providers ‘[acting] as a portal for the provision of prescription-only medicines to the public without being a registered pharmacy premise. 

‘In some instances, there is no transparency to patients of the provenance of the prescription medicines provided to them and especially where patients can expect the protection of regulation,’ he said.  

The GPhC have been approached for comment.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) reported in October last year (2020) that there had been a ‘significant decrease’ in the number of patient safety incidents reported to the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) during lockdown, the organisation has said.

The number of patient safety incidents reported to the NPA between April and June decreased by 44.5% when compared with the three months leading up to lockdown in the UK.