The National Pharmacy Association has laid out four primary concerns to outgoing “pharmacy minister” Lord Hunt, in the hope that they will be taken up by the incoming Minister of Health.

A primary concern for the NPA is medicines supply and how to prevent counterfeit drugs from entering circulation. Last month, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had to deal with several cases of fake drugs emerging in the National Health Service supply chain, including counterfeit versions of AstraZeneca’s prostate cancer drug Casodex (bicalutamide) and Eli Lilly's antipsychotic Zyprexa (olanzapine).

The problem is certainly on the rise, and has spurred drugmakers into considering dramatic changes to their supply chains to help tighten up control over their products. Pfizer is already using a single distribution system for its medicines, and AstraZeneca is planning to implement a new system using just two distribution groups next year. There has been much opposition to these changes and, earlier this year, the Office of Fair Trading launched a market study into the distribution of medicines in the UK to determine how they may affect competition.

“The changes to the supply model made by medicines manufacturers has been a significant concern to our members, we are urging the pharmaceutical industry to meet with us and other stakeholders to work out a way of tacking counterfeiting,” said Dilip Joshi, chairman of the NPA. “We were led to believe that this is the kind of initiative government would like to be involved with. The minister also asked (and we will oblige) for more detail about how pharmacists could add value to the supply chain – especially with new, expensive medicines – where the NHS, the patient and the profession could benefit,” he added.

Against pseudoephedrine reclassification

Another issue the NPA wants to see resolved is that over the MHRA’s proposed reclassification of pseudoephedrine to a prescription-only medicine, because of concerns over the potential for misuse of the drug.

“We made it clear that pharmacy is united in its opposition to the proposal to reclassify this safe and effective medicine and strongly refuted the claim that the only way this medicine can be controlled is through prescribing…We again asked Government to look to community pharmacy to provide the solution to the pseudoephedrine problem,” Joshi said.

Implementation of the electronic prescription service was also discussed. The NHS body Connecting for Health is responsible for introducing EPS, which will enable electronic prescriptions to be generated, transmitted and received so that pharmacists and other dispensers can dispense against them.

But, according to Joshi, the lack of transparency about the progress of EPS is the likely reason for pharmacists’ current lack of engagement with the process. “It’s impossible for effective communication to be realised when so much information comes with a ‘confidential’ stamp.” The minister agreed that there is need for a more open discussion about EPS with stakeholders, he said, and the NPA suggested that the appointment of the National Clinical Lead for pharmacy would “show commitment to increased dialogue with the profession.”

Call for independent prescribing

And lastly, with regard to prescribing, Joshi said: “We need government to be aware that, if the NHS does not commission independent prescribing services, there is a risk that only private services will develop (such as private flu vaccine clinics) – worsening health inequalities.”

The NPA suggested various practical steps that might accelerate the take-up of pharmacist prescribing, such as the setting up of a training fund or investing in a pilot scheme to demonstrate its value, an NPA spokesman told PharmaTimes UK News.

Commenting on the meeting in general, Joshi stressed: “I hope we will have the opportunity with the new minister to pick up these issues where we left off with Lord Hunt – some, like the proposed reclassification of pseudoephedrine will require immediate attention…We will be seeking to take forward this and other items with the incoming Minister as soon as possible.”