Clause 25 - Control of pharmacy premises: individuals and partnerships

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health 3:15 pm, 20th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 123, in clause 25, page 22, line 2, at end insert

‘but nothing in this section shall be taken to require a pharmacist to be present on those premises when medicinal products on a general sale list are sold by retail.’.

This is a probing amendment; we seek clarification. Clause 25 deals with individuals and partnerships. I have questions about the implications of the clause in respect of the particular case of what are called general sale list products—products that do not need a pharmacist to be present to be sold, such as the kind of product that someone might buy in a garage shop. We simply want to be clear that clause 25 would have no impact on general sale list products or on the requirement for pharmacists to be present. If the Minister can reassure us that that is implicit or, indeed, explicit in the clause, we would be more than happy.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Department of Health 3:30 pm, 20th December 2005

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman moved the amendment. The Medicines Act 1968 does not require a pharmacist to supervise the sale of general sale list medicines. The public can buy those medicines in several retail outlets, such as newsagents, garage shops and supermarkets—we all know them—without the need for a pharmacist to be present on the premises. However, the lack of clarity about the personal control requirements in the Act has led to the common interpretation that pharmacists exercise control over the pharmacy business only when they are physically present in the pharmacy. That has led to the view that the exercise of personal control over the pharmacy requires the pharmacist to be present when general sale list medicines are sold. Thus, an anomaly has been created. Someone may buy a general sale list medicine from a local corner shop, but if he visits a pharmacy, and the pharmacist is not present, he must go elsewhere to make the purchase. That is nonsense.

The Bill replaces the personal control requirement with a requirement that each pharmacy should have a responsible pharmacist in charge of the pharmacy business in so far as it relates to all medicines, including those on the general sale list. The responsible pharmacist will not be required to be on the premises at all times, and it will be for the pharmacist to decide whether the pharmacy will sell general sale list   medicines when he or she is not physically present. We assume that most responsible pharmacists will decide that their pharmacies can do so.

As a result of the changes in the Bill, the present anomaly will disappear, so the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is not necessary. I hope that that addresses his concerns in tabling the amendment. The Bill places pharmacies on a more equal footing with other outlets selling general sale list medicines.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

In a sense, our amendment related to the opposite group of premises—those where general sale list medicines are on sale and there is currently no requirement for supervision. We merely sought to clarify that clause 25 would not introduce a new requirement, and the Minister has broadly satisfied me that that is indeed the case. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

In her response on clause 24, the Minister indicated that some of our remarks might have been more appropriately directed at clause 25, and I apologise if that was the case. However, I just want to gnaw away further on the issue of supervision.

Would it be accurate to say that we are dealing in clause 25 with a calculated risk? I do not say that pejoratively; I simply think that that, objectively, is what we are doing. For the past 37 years, we have said that a pharmacist must be present, and if they nipped out to the loo or went over the road, the pharmacy could not sell medicines. We are now saying that we want pharmacists to do other things, so we will allow pharmacies to make available medicines that they have not been allowed to make available for the past 37 years without a pharmacist being present. We are trying to minimise the risk arising from that relaxation of the rules by setting out in regulations who can sell medicines and in what circumstances.

My question is whether the Government have done any risk assessment on clause 25. There must be a risk associated with selling medicines without a pharmacist being present, when they would hitherto never have been sold with a pharmacist present. There must be a risk associated with the pharmacist being on the other end of a webcam or a phone and not being physically present. How big a risk is that? Has the nature of that risk been assessed? How far will the regulations limit that risk?

Do the Government envisage that in the vast majority of cases a pharmacist will still be physically present? That is an important question for us on these Benches. Is the regime that is envisaged one in which pharmacists will have a bit of spare time in which they can be away from the premises if they have to do something worth while, but that that will be exceptional—the norm will still be that the main pharmacist attached to one set of premises will be there? Alternatively, are we envisaging a world in   which, because we are convinced that the change is very low risk and there are enough trained people out there to cover for them, pharmacists will play a light-touch supervisory role? Are we changing from hands-on, got-to-be-on-the-premises people, without whom nothing can be sold, to a regime of light-touch oversight of several premises? How far down that route do the Government expect clause 25 to take us?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Department of Health

I agree with what I think is the hon. Gentleman’s main concern. The public place importance on being able to see and obtain advice from the pharmacist. It is important for people to be able to identify the responsible pharmacist in a pharmacy, and that is where clarification is needed. The law does not specifically say that a pharmacist has to be present, but that is how it has been interpreted. We expect that the responsible pharmacist will spend the majority of his or her time in the pharmacy. The way the time of pharmacists is used is down to the contracts between them and the primary care trusts that commission their services.

Because we want the public to have the reassurance of knowing who the responsible pharmacist is in a pharmacy, we have taken the step of changing the requirement in section 70 of the 1968 Act for the pharmacist in personal control of the pharmacy to exhibit conspicuously in the pharmacy his or her registration certificate.

In practice, most, if not all, pharmacists working in pharmacies display their certificates, so there is an expectation that they will always be there. Now, we are going to say that the responsible pharmacist will be required to display conspicuously in the pharmacy a notice stating that he is the pharmacist in charge of the pharmacy on that day and at that time, and giving his registration number. That will help the public to identify the pharmacist in charge, particularly in cases in which more than one pharmacist is present in a pharmacy. It will also allow the public to know when the pharmacist in control is not physically present.

Subsection (5) replicates the current provision that somebody who has been registered as a pharmacist in Great Britain for less than three years may not be in charge of a pharmacy. I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The way in which the law has developed in this area is a little strange, and I think that what we are doing will be welcomed. I know that there are concerns that our intention is to dilute the role of the pharmacist. That is not the case. Indeed, we are working closely with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to ensure that we maintain the strong support that we have among pharmacists for the developments in this legislation.

I have inherited a piece of work that has been under way for many years, and this change is a sensible step. In taking it, we can be confident that we are retaining the regulations necessary to allow for patient safety to be properly maintained.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.