Friday 28 April 2017

GPs shelve bold plan to dispense pills

A ground-breaking plan by GPs to set up a nationwide network of ‘in-house’ pharmacies has been shelved, the Sunday Independent has learned. Stock Image: PA
A ground-breaking plan by GPs to set up a nationwide network of ‘in-house’ pharmacies has been shelved, the Sunday Independent has learned. Stock Image: PA
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

A ground-breaking plan by GPs to set up a nationwide network of 'in-house' pharmacies has been shelved, the Sunday Independent has learned.

It would have resulted in an unprecedented shake-up in the multi-million euro drugs and medicines dispensing industry.

It would also have brought doctors and pharmacists into direct conflict - with the latter arguing some of their traditional income would be "stolen" by the family GP. The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has already warned the scheme could lead to an increase in prescribing errors.

And it claims it would also lead to patients being "ripped off" by some doctors anxious to boost their profits.

However, it has now emerged GPs are working on an alternative scheme, which would still give them an increased role in the dispensing of medicines. A number of doctors already dispense small amounts of medicines out of hours. The HSE also pays GPs in rural areas, called 'dispensing doctors', to allocate medicines directly to patients with medical cards.

Under its initial plan, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) had proposed doctors would start dispensing commonly used medicines - such as antibiotics, blood pressure and cholesterol drugs - directly to medical card holders on a widespread basis.

This ancillary income would have resulted in GPs taking a chunk of the €2.7bn spent on drugs in pharmacies each year. It was planned to limit the scheme to medical card holders only, and would not have included difficult and complex prescriptions. According to the NAGP, the original plan would have generated significant extra money which could be put directly into primary care.

However, senior figures in the organisation have now decided to shelve the plan, after a feasibility study found the introduction of the proposed nationwide dispensing service would be "too complex".

Problems with the "supply chain" and the logistics involved were cited as two of the key stumbling blocks.

"There are no safety issues but there were problems with storage, labelling, distribution and access to medicine. Who would deliver and hold the product?" a source explained.

"The Department of Health has confirmed there are no legal problems with it, so some GPs may decide to start in a limited way dispensing drugs.

"That's up to them as individuals - but our solution from a national perspective is not that. However, there is a different solution which we're currently working on. The feasibility study is very much still ongoing because it's got much bigger and has progressed to a new level."

The source added the new proposals would reflect government intentions to reduce the number of patients ending up in hospital. "Essentially, we're going to put a very specific plan to them which they'll either accept or they won't. There are potentially savings to the State in the cost of medicines in the region of €500m per annum over the next five years. We're looking for this money to be reinvested into primary care."

Sunday Independent

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