Health and Social Care Bill
Earl Howe (Conservative)
I trust that the Committee will forgive me if I initiate a very short debate on Clause 50. In doing so, I make it clear at the outset that I harbour no desire whatever to frustrate its very positive proposals.
My concern arises because I believe that the concept of remote dispensing raises a number of fundamental issues relating to patient care. If one asks a pharmacist what his role is in dispensing a prescription, he will always say that it is primarily a checking role. He would include in that definition the role of making sure that patients understood how to take their medicine, the purpose of it, and the instructions relating to the dosage.
During that process, a pharmacist occasionally will discover a doctor's prescribing error. Doctors' errors of that sort are rare; I do not want to suggest otherwise. These days computer systems in GPs' surgeries are very sophisticated. At the time of prescribing, the computer checks the compatibility of the medicine with the patient's medical condition and any other medicines being prescribed. Despite that, however, a computer will never provide a pharmacist's full service.
My concern--a nagging worry more than anything else--is that when remote dispensing gets under way, it will turn into a van-delivery service, perhaps run by a large national pharmacy chain, with electronic transfer of prescriptions. We need to look carefully at what we shall gain and what we shall lose by that sort of streamlining. We will obviously gain convenience and speed. What we may lose will emerge only over time--perhaps the livelihood of the local chemist, or even that of the local dispensing doctor, and the sort of face-to-face professional advice that a pharmacist is able to give. In that regard, there is a risk, however small, to patient safety. Beyond a certain point, that would be an unacceptable price to pay for progress. I would welcome any comments that the Minister has to make.