Clause 28 - The responsible pharmacist

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health) 3:45 pm, 20th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in clause 28, page 24, line 24, leave out from ‘time’ to end of line 25.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 92.

Amendment No. 19, in clause 28, page 24, line 41, after ‘pharmacist’, insert ‘having regard to—

(a)the establishment of clear lines of accountability within the pharmacy;

(b)provision for the responsible pharmacist to be contactable when absent;

(c)the maximum time for the responsible pharmacist to return to the pharmacy; and

(d)provision for the responsible pharmacist to justify any absence.’.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I will deal with amendments Nos. 17 and 19. The first amendment would delete in relation to the provision that

“A person may not be the responsible pharmacist in respect of more than one set of premises at the same time”,

the words

“except in circumstances specified by the Health Ministers in regulations.”

We want to make it clear that a pharmacist may be responsible for just one pharmacy at any one time and the amendment would remove the expectation that Ministers may be able to alter that.

If the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment, I hope that she will at least give the Committee an idea of the circumstances she envisages in which it would be acceptable for a pharmacist to supervise more than one pharmacy. In a sense, I suppose that she has covered some of that ground already, but now is an opportunity to explore further the rationale behind the limitation of the number of premises that a pharmacist can supervise.

The Minister has been good and has answered the worries of hon. Members. Nevertheless she has not really dealt with the central issue of whether we are being driven by a safety case or by a need to protect and enhance the extended role of the pharmacist. As I have said about previous clauses, it is increasingly my view that the safety case can be made for remote supervision. Perhaps we are not at that stage at the moment. We would have to explore the matter further, but we are going in that direction.

The case for the extended role of the pharmacist is far less clear and that is why I am suggesting in a probing way that we delete the words whereby pharmacists can supervise more than one set of premises at Ministers’ discretion. That is the intention of amendment No. 17.

Amendment No. 19 is a little more complicated because it would establish parameters under which pharmacists may operate. As part of the amendment, we have laid out a number of parameters that Ministers would have to consider in drafting regulations in relation to the responsible pharmacist. Those parameters concern the establishment of clear lines of accountability within pharmacies, the provision for the responsible pharmacist to be contactable when absent, the maximum time for the responsible pharmacist to return to the pharmacy, and provision for the responsible pharmacist to justify any absences. In other words, we are saying that the pharmacist will normally be at the pharmacy.

We are saying that it is not really acceptable for pharmacists to regard their pharmacy as a base camp from which they operate an itinerant practice, so that they cannot reliably be found at the pharmacy at any one time. That approach seems to cut across the developing role of the pharmacist that we have seen in recent years, which we regard as a fairly positive thing. I would be concerned if it became the rule rather than the exception that pharmacists were absent from their premises and doing, other albeit worthwhile, things. I hope that the Minister will consider our amendments favourably.

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

Amendment No. 92 is a minor technical amendment to the Medicines Act 1968. I appreciate the main concern that the hon. Gentleman has articulated. Under the 1968 Act, maintaining patient safety is paramount. We believe that the changes proposed and the conditions to be set in the regulations will maintain patient safety. I accept that there is anxiety about the opportunities that might arise to exploit any flexibility in the rule of “one responsible pharmacist, one pharmacy.” However, the intention is that regulations will be tightly drawn as to the specified circumstances and conditions that must be met to allow exceptions to that general rule. Those regulations will be subject to further discussion and consultation with all interested parties.

I think that, by and large, we agree that the general rule should be “one responsible pharmacist, one pharmacy”, but we also think it sensible to allow sufficient flexibility to consider and, if necessary, to respond to circumstances that may arise in which a responsible pharmacist might be permitted to be responsible for more than one pharmacy at any one time.

Let me give the Committee a couple of examples. There may be changes in the way in which pharmacy services are provided, such as a case in which the responsible pharmacist controls the supply of certain medicines in another location. For example, a pharmacy service might be provided to offer sale of over-the-counter medicines to meet the needs of a large number of people attending an event that extended   over several days. The service might be delivered by trained staff, such as pharmacy technicians, with the pharmacist responsible for a pharmacy in a nearby village or town also becoming responsible for the safe running of that additional pharmacy.

Amendment No. 17 would restrict a responsible pharmacist to one pharmacy only in exercising his duty and, as I have just described, there are circumstances in which I believe that that greater flexibility should be allowed. Amendment No. 19 would restrict the responsible pharmacist as to when and how he might be absent from the pharmacy. The proposed changes are unnecessary, as there is already provision in relation to that in the Bill. We would expect the pharmacy for which the pharmacist is responsible to be the responsible pharmacist’s main place of work. We would also expect them to remain contactable so that they can provide advice or arrange for another pharmacist to do so. These provisions and other provisions on, for example, written procedures will ensure the safe and effective running of the pharmacy, including when the responsible pharmacist is away from the pharmacy. As I said, we expect the responsible pharmacist to be on the premises, by and large, but the provision allows for consideration of developing services, which is a sensible route to follow.

The new provisions will help to remove restrictions on the pharmacist’s ability to provide a range of other services, including working with other health professionals such as GPs. We intend the regulations to set out the conditions that must be met to permit an exception to the rule of “one responsible pharmacist, one pharmacy”. The House will have the opportunity to debate those regulations later.

As I said, amendment No. 92 is a minor drafting amendment that tightens the regulation-making power to provide not only that responsible pharmacists may be responsible for more than one pharmacy, but that the regulations may require the responsible pharmacist to comply with certain conditions. Such regulations need to be tightly drawn. We intend to consult representative bodies on the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to consider an exception to the “one responsible pharmacist, one pharmacy rule”. I therefore hope that the Committee will accept amendment No. 92. I also hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Westbury, and that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

The Minister has undertaken to ensure that regulations are—in her words—tightly drawn. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 92, in clause 28, page 24, line 25, at end insert

‘, and then only if such conditions as may be so specified are complied with.’.—[Jane Kennedy.]

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in clause 28, page 24, line 40, after ‘Ministers’, insert

‘, having consulted with representative bodies,’.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 122, in clause 28, page 25, line 29, at end insert—

‘(12)Before making regulations under this section the Health Ministers shall consult such persons as appear to them to represent persons providing pharmaceutical services.’.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Amendment No. 18 is a simple amendment that follows on from several rather similar amendments that we have tabled to the Bill. It would insert into the Bill the need to consult representative bodies before Health Ministers make further provisions relating to the responsible pharmacist. It is driven by the profession’s desire to influence what happens, and by a feeling that it is appropriate for Ministers to consult pharmacists closely before they make any regulations under the Bill. That is entirely reasonable.

The Minister said in relation to the previous group of amendments that she intended to consult representative bodies, which is a good thing. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to insert such a duty into the Bill, because consulting representative bodies is important. I very much hope that she will consider the amendment favourably.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

The hon. Gentleman was uncharacteristically brief, so I rise briefly to speak to amendment No. 122, which seeks to achieve a similar object. We discussed consultation in our consideration of part 1, in which the Minister with responsibility for public health resisted the suggestion that the Royal Institute of Public Health should be consulted. I hope that the Minister present will have an entirely different attitude. If the legislation is to work, it is important that all the bodies with a professional interest are consulted, and I hope that, just for once, the Government will be open minded and accept an Opposition amendment.

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

I am always open minded—well, mostly. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman’s point and, if necessary, I will write to him. However, both amendments are unnecessary. The Bill inserts new sections into the Medicines Act 1968. Section 129(6) of that Act already imposes a statutory requirement for there to be consultation of representative interests before making regulations. By virtue of that section, we already have a statutory obligation to consult interested parties before making regulations under the new powers inserted into the Act by this Bill. I therefore recommend that the Committee rejects the amendments. I appreciate the tone in which the hon. Member for Westbury moved amendment No. 118, but I hope that he does not press it to a vote, because that would be a shame at this late stage, in an afternoon just before Christmas.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health) 4:00 pm, 20th December 2005

I detect a note of desperation. For that reason alone, I am tempted to press the amendment to a vote, but as it is Christmas, I shall not. The Minister has given us plenty of reassurances and the point about consulting representative bodies is on   the record. That is good. With that in mind, and in the spirit of Christmas, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 93, in clause 28, page 25, line 16, leave out ‘under’ and insert ‘made by virtue of’.

No. 94, in clause 28, page 25, line 22, leave out ‘under’ and insert ‘made by virtue of’.

No. 95, in clause 28, page 25, leave out line 37 and insert

‘making of entries in a record relating to the responsible pharmacist),’.

No. 96, in clause 28, page 25, line 39, leave out from ‘of’ to end of line 40 and insert ‘the record).” ’.—[Jane Kennedy.]

Clause 28, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 29 and 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.