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Brine: Rebalancing Board has no firm plans on technicians – media coverage has been disappointing

By Neil Trainis

PUBLISHED: October 10, 2017 | UPDATED: October 10, 2017

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Steve Brine, the minister with responsibility for pharmacy at the Department of Health, has said he is “disappointed” by media coverage of the debate on pharmacy technicians overseeing the supply of medicines and insisted the rebalancing medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation programme board has not arrived at any “firm proposals” on the issue.

Brine was quick to defend the rebalancing board, which came under attack last month from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association who described it as a “bunker” which lacks transparency as it examines proposals to give technicians the power to supervise the supply of prescription medicines.

The proposals, pushed forward by a group chaired by England’s chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge and his Scottish counterpart Rose Marie Parr, were revealed in leaked documents, prompting speculation that the rebalancing board is keen on the plans.

Defending the Board, which will consult with pharmacy stakeholders and the public on the plans, Brine told the Pharmacy Business Awards that it had not come to any conclusions on the role of technicians and insisted media coverage of the leaked documents was “not helpful and can cause unnecessary worry.” The next rebalancing board meeting is on October 23.

“I look forward to exploring with the profession further elements of the rebalancing programme, ensuring that the legislative framework is fit to support the role we see for pharmacy professionals in the future, and ensuring that high quality care and continuing improvement remains at the centre of all that we do,” he said.

“I recognise that the sector has undergone a great amount of change, which can be unsettling, but can also present great opportunities. That said I am disappointed by the recent media coverage around the role of pharmacy technicians.

“This is a complex and emotive issue which requires careful consideration. The release of partial discussions is not helpful and can cause unnecessary worry.

“To echo comments already made by Jeremy Hunt and others, the rebalancing programme board, whose job it is to advise ministers and the devolved administrations, does not have any firm proposals.

“The Board is continuing to consider the role of registered pharmacy technicians and will consult wider with all pharmacy stakeholders, including many of you in this room, before it settles on a firm set of proposals. Only when the Board have firm proposals will these be sent to me and my ministerial colleagues for consideration.”

Brine added: “If in the future we choose to make legislative changes to current supervision requirements, adequate governance is crucial. This involves a quality systems approach, engaging all those in the profession, and the businesses they work for.

“Other elements of the rebalancing programme reinforce this, strengthening, not weakening, the role of superintendent pharmacists and responsible pharmacists.”

Brine also said progress was being made on the decriminalisation of dispensing errors which has dragged on for years without resolution.

A pharmacist in Northern Ireland who was prosecuted for a dispensing error which led to the death of a patient was recently suspended for seven months by the statutory committee of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Martin White was found guilty in December last year of giving 67-year-old Ethna Walsh the wrong drugs which led to her death in February 2014. White’s prosecution, in which he was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years, was thought to be the first prosecution for a dispensing error in Northern Ireland.

“In terms of addressing some of the barriers to providing a safer, high quality service, you will be well aware of the delays with legislation on dispensing errors in community pharmacy,” Brine said.

“This delay is frustrating but I am pleased to confirm that the community pharmacy dispensing error order has been agreed across government and we are working to lay this before parliament as soon as possible.

“I am similarly committed to commencing consultation on an equivalent set of provisions for hospital pharmacy professionals.”