More healthcare professionals to be allowed to prescribe
Author: Ingrid Torjesen
The range of professions able to prescribe medicines in low-risk circumstances is to be expanded to reduce unnecessary GP appointments under provisions laid out in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill published today.
The government’s bill will also enable NHS hospitals to use innovative, personalised medicines for unique cancers and diseases, introduces new regulations on medical devices to ensure patient safety, and also seeks to soften regulations governing the UK’s life sciences sector to make the UK more competitive in this sector post-Brexit.
The government wants to give more health professionals powers to prescribe “low-risk medicines”, as midwives and paramedics do now with pain relief and physiotherapists with anti-inflammatories. This will allow the NHS to make the best use of its highly skilled workforce, saving patients’ time and reducing unnecessary GP appointments, the government says.
There will be safeguards and limits on what medications are eligible, and the government will work with the NHS and stakeholders to determine what medicines could be eligible and in what circumstances.
The new bill will allow hospitals to use patient tissue and DNA samples to tailor treatments to individual patients when other medicines have failed, or to develop drugs that have a shelf-life of minutes and would otherwise be unavailable to them. This has the potential to streamline access to treatments for patients with rare cancers and brain tumours.
The bill will also allow the government to ensure medical devices, such as such as pacemakers, breast implants and ultrasound imagers, are subject to the highest standards of regulation, further boosting patient safety and ensuring the UK leads the way in developing pioneering health technology. Companies will need to register medical devices with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), ensuring suppliers follow strict safety checks and enabling tough enforcement action if something goes wrong.
The health and social care secretary will be given the power to disclose specific information about devices to members of the public and the healthcare system, subject to appropriate safeguards, when there are serious patient safety concerns.
The bill will also aim to streamline the licensing and regulation of new treatments to try and ensure the UK remains competitive and an attractive market to pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. This is to tackle fears that UK patients may have to wait longer for new medicines because companies will choose to seek EU approval for drugs first once regulation of medicines in the UK separates from the European Medicines Agency.
Health minister Baroness Blackwood said: “I am determined to help everyone who uses our world-leading NHS to access pioneering, cutting-edge treatments as soon as possible.”
Dr Malcolm Finlay, consultant cardiologist at Barts Heart Centre, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), commented: “This is a government action in two halves.
“Firstly, this bill aims to boost the access to cutting edge medicines available to patients. These can often be seen as experimental right now, but many of the innovative approaches that we're now thinking about to treat severe and previously intractable disease don't fit into current frameworks of regulation. Indeed, the government's approach must be welcomed, giving opportunity to patients as well as a boost to the incredibly important biotech sector of the economy.”
He added: “The bill also contains significant ideas around how healthcare may be delivered to patients. Already many hospitals are moving to offering virtual clinics, and nurse prescribing, these are solid given policy weight and the backing of central government will move these from local innovations to centre stage in delivering efficient and effective health care to our NHS users!”