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Government has laid out a draft legislation before parliament proposing emergency powers for pharmacists to ration drugs as per a ‘serious shortage protocol’.

The provision, part of the contingency planning for a possible no-deal Brexit, allows pharmacists to swap drugs, reduce quantity or change dosage, overruling GP prescriptions.

The draft legislation will come into force on 9 February. Britain is set to leave the European Union on 29 March.

The legislation, Human Medicines (Amendment) Regulations 2019, follows an urgent consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care and allows ministers to issue a serious shortage protocol in circumstances where the country is “experiencing or may experience a serious shortage of a prescription only medicine or prescription only medicines of a specified description.”

Pharmacists are then allowed, under the protocol, to sell or supply a medicine of different strength, quantity or pharmaceutical form to the one prescribed. They are also allowed to substitute medicines with a generic version, a similar product in the case of biosimilars, or a medicine that has a similar therapeutic effect.        

As part of the Brexit contingency measures, the DHSC has asked drug manufacturers to ensure they have a six-week ‘buffer stock’ on top of the three months they already have in place. Though the department has said the public need not to stockpile, reports indicate that patients are stocking medicines in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Pharmacists are also asked to refrain from stockpiling additional medicines beyond their business as usual stock levels.

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