Urgent guidelines have been issued to pharmacists working in GP practices after patient deaths were reported to the pharmacists’ union.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said it has become increasingly concerned about ‘unsafe practice’ that has emerged since the number of independent prescribers working in GP practices has risen.
It has seen a number of ‘serious incidents’ recently and is in the ‘early stages of dealing with cases where patient deaths have been reported’, it confirmed.
The incidents relate to GP practice-based pharmacists and those working in online pharmacies.
Alima Batchelor, head of policy at the PDA, said the union would be raising concerns with the relevant government departments and pharmacy bodies.
‘The decision to bring such matters openly to the attention of all pharmacists is always a difficult one, but we were sufficiently concerned to feel that making a public statement was necessary,’ she said.
She added: ‘We will be using information from relevant cases in future safety and risk management presentations, training and guidance material for pharmacists.’
The guidance, issued to all pharmacists, said the recent cases were linked to pharmacists prescribing inappropriately or offering poor advice because they had an ‘ill-founded’ assumption of competence.
This potentially causes serious harm and distress to patients, their families and the pharmacists involved, warned the guidance.
A PDA statement said: ‘We cannot impress upon members strongly enough the importance of seriously considering their levels of experience and skill at all times before making a clinical decision and issuing a prescription.’
The guidance also acknowledged the rise in online pharmacies selling prescription only medicines (POMs) and the risks involved due to a lack of access to examine the patient or review their clinical notes.
The statement said: ‘In some cases, we are aware that employers in online pharmacies may place expectations upon their pharmacist employees to prescribe high-risk POMs, such as controlled drugs or medicines for conditions that require regular monitoring, without any communication with the patient’s GP. We would regard this as unsafe and unacceptable practice.’
In April 2019,the General Pharmaceutical Council issued new rules for online pharmacies in response to these growing concerns.