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Patients at risk in confusion over pill switch -- doctors

Some confused elderly patients who are being dispensed generic drugs instead of their normal branded versions have stopped taking vital medicines, it was claimed yesterday.

Alarmed GPs are now accusing pharmacists of making switches without their permission and have written to Primary Care Minister Roisin Shortall asking her to urgently investigate the practice.

A generic medicine is the exact equivalent and strength of a branded drug which is off patent and is generally cheaper.

But it can be another colour with different packaging to the branded version -- and on rare occasions the patient leaflets may not be in English.

Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley told the Irish Independent he is getting four to five complaints a week from colleagues who are alarmed at pharmacists dispensing generic drugs to their patients even though their repeat prescription is for a branded version.

"Some patients are coming into the surgery and are quite distressed," said Dr Walley, who is head of the GP committee at the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

Pharmacists are not yet allowed to substitute a branded with a generic medicine without the authorisation of a patient's doctor -- except in special circumstances.

New legislation which will permit pharmacists to make this switch is currently going through the Oireachtas.

"Patients, particularly the elderly, are becoming confused. I have had patients who have come in to see me having collected a prescription two and three weeks beforehand.

"They received generic drugs and stopped taking their tablets for cardiac conditions. There are serious safety issues with this," Dr Walley said.


He said the IMO supported the Government's move to increase generic prescribing to make savings, but warned it could not be introduced in the form of a "big bang" in the interests of patient safety.

A spokesman for the Irish Pharmacy Union, said: "Pharmacists consult with GPs on such matters where appropriate and also advise patients on generic substitution to ensure continued compliance.

"Pharmacists are well aware of their responsibilities in this regard."

Irish Independent