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#GPnews: Prescription drugs being ‘diverted’ into criminal market

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16:00 The UK drug regulator has launched a ‘large-scale investigation’ into the diversion of prescription drug supplies into the criminal market, after discovering ‘significant’ amounts of benzodiazepines and similar drugs had been diverted from the regulated supply chain.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that, uncommonly, the drugs involved were legitimate UK products.

It said the investigation has found an ‘extensive network of criminality involving businesses such as wholesale dealers and including a small number of registered pharmacies in the UK’.

As part of the investigation, two pharmacists in Yorkshire have been arrested after it was found they had purchased more than 200,000 packs of benzodiazepines and other ‘powerful’ drugs but only dispensed very small amounts, the MHRA added.

Alastair Jeffrey, MHRA Head of Enforcement, said: ‘Selling medicines other than through the legitimate supply chain is illegal. Evidence shows extensive criminality involving a number of businesses.

‘As a matter of priority we are working with our regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved in this activity and to implement preventative measures to make sure this illegal industry is shut down.

‘Prescription only medicines are, by their very nature, potent and should only be prescribed by a doctor or appropriate healthcare professional. We would advise people not to buy medicines from unregulated sources as they pose a danger to their health.’

12:50 The Daily Mail also reported on NHS England’s statistics showing a fifth of GPs offer extended hours. 

Its front-page story says that ‘the figures will fuel concern the Government pledge to offer out-of-hours appointments nationwide by 2020 is wildly off course’.

The GPC has responded to the Mail’s story.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘GP practices are working harder than ever before to deliver more appointments to patients, but they are under unprecedented pressure from soaring demand, falling resources and staff shortages. A recent BMA survey of more than 5,000 GPs found that eight out of ten felt unmanageable workload was damaging patient safety and a third of practices had unfilled staff vacancies for more than a year.

‘The government’s scheme from which these results are taken is not planned to fully cover every area of the country until 2020, and the current figures simply reflect the previous access scheme that was limited by NHS England to a few pilot areas. Even these areas could see their services cut as future funding for the intended wider roll-out has been significantly reduced.

‘The BMA is concerned that this programme is fundamentally flawed. At a time when general practice and the wider NHS is under such unprecedented pressure, any new funding should be directed towards solving the current crisis in day to day services and not trying to expand an already overstretched service more thinly. The government instead needs to urgently implement its promises of extra funding and staff to general practice.’

9:35: NHS England figures have revealed that around one in five GP surgeries offer extended hours to patients seven days a week. 

A survey of just over 7,000 GP practices found 6,164 practices (86% of the total) provide partial or full extended access, covering 49.51 million patients in England.

New RCGP chair Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Extending GP surgery opening hours means taking staff and other resources away from our routine service, which is already stretched incredibly thinly due to years of decline in investment.

‘We understand that patients can’t determine when they will be poorly but opening our surgeries for longer isn’t the solution. Many practices across the country have been offering routine services in the evening and at weekends, but patient demand has been so low that they have had to stop.’