It is critical that the patient’s dose is not changed or put in danger. The management of any condition is dose sensitive. We cannot go down to homeopathic doses of antibiotics or blood pressure medication—that would be crazy.
Pharmacists can give a different form, such as liquid, solid or capsule. Again, for some patients that will not be a problem; for others, it will. Anne Marie Morris mentioned generic drugs. Generally, NHS prescribers use generic drugs as the default to save money. However, I have had patients who had appalling side effects from the generic form of tamoxifen, but not from the non-generic brand. There always has to be a right for GPs to say, “In this case, I will use the brand.”
The most important bit of this statutory instrument is that it allows a change to a completely different drug. It may be a drug that is approved by a panel sitting somewhere in London with the colleges, who say that it is a reasonable replacement for the other drug, but that does not take into account the fact that patients are all individuals. I can tell you that they are all individuals.
Pharmacists are very knowledgeable—in Scotland, we have had community pharmacists for over a decade and they contribute massively—but they work to their own protocol, they work within limits and they do not have access to the patient’s notes. Therefore, they cannot see that the patient has been on a drug in the past and had terrible side effects. They will replace with a protocol drug, but what about the responsibility? Why is this happening right now?
It suggests to me that the Department of Health and Social Care is expecting massive shortages, to the point where the simple act of picking up the phone and saying to the GP, “I don’t have drug A. Would drug B be reasonable for Mrs Smith?”, is somehow impractical. I find that very worrying. It may be that Mrs Smith has had six drugs to control her blood pressure. Drug 2 and drug 5 caused her to faint or have blackouts, but the pharmacist does not know that.
Epileptics have been mentioned. The issue with epileptics is that any change can destabilise their epilepsy. They are therefore never prescribed by generic, but are prescribed by brand to avoid precisely that.