SUDEP Action

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Patient safety campaign renewed as judge uphold minister prescription powers



On Friday 10 May, The Good Law Project lost it’s case before the Court of Appeal, about whether the Government had acted illegally and outside its powers, when it rushed in Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) for the supply of medicines earlier this year.

In the event of medicine shortage, ministers can action the Protocol, allowing pharmacists to dispense a generic equivalent or even ration a medicine, without talking to the orginal specialist prescriber.

Lawyers for The Good Law Project argued that such a change to the way that medicines are supplied, would fundamentally alter the way treatments are decided between doctor and patient, and needed careful legislative consideration through Parliament.

The presiding judge Lord Justice Hickinbottom, agreed to hold an urgent hearing as SSPs are more likely to be issued, whilst a no-deal Brexit remains a possibility. Lord Justice Hickinbottom, found that the Good Law Project's case was unarguable, that these powers were similar to the legal powers for a pandemic; or other powers to supply medicines without prescriptions.

Jane Hanna OBE, CEO of SUDEP Action, have been working on highlighting medicines shortages issues for seven months said, “Thanks to The Good Law Project and the legal team for taking this to Court. The Court recognised that there was an important public interest regarding Serious Shortage Protocols. The case was made about whether Government had the legal power to be able to make legal changes to allow for serious shortage protocols to happen. Unfortunately, they agreed with Government’s arguments. 

As an organisation dealing with 21 deaths a week, many of which are avoidable, it is sad to contemplate that powers usually restricted for use during disaster situations, are now available in case of a no-deal Brexit. 

This new law sidesteps the suppling of medications by prescription, by a clinician who knows patient history, and has been rushed in at great speed, bypassing public consultation and any in-depth scrutiny. This is worrying given the potential consequences to people with epilepsy who may already be at an increased risk of death, people who should be kept at the heart of decisions involving their medication and any changes they may face. 
We will continue to lead a campaign to shine a light on the causes of medicines shortages and why the public interest is to mitigate against increasing risks to the supply of life-saving medicines”

Maxine Smeaton. CEO of Epilepsy Research UK, which has supported the campaign said, Research has shown that establishing the correct dosage and combination of medications to successfully control a persons’ epilepsy and associated conditions can take months, or even years, with careful thought and consideration from clinicians in both primary and secondary clinical care teams. Upsetting the careful balancing act of medications and adjunctive treatments may reduce seizure control and increase risk of a life-threatening seizures.”
Phil Tittensor, Epilepsy Specialist Nurses Association representing concerned clinicians commented, “Epilepsy like many life-threatening conditions, is complex and requires prescribing by specialists who know the patient and have access to their medical record. For some it may take years to establish the best anti-epileptic drug treatment. Changing this treatment without a full consultation between the specialist and the patient will, in many cases, have serious consequences, ranging from the social and psychological impact of further seizures, through to the impact on driving, work and safety, including the increased possibility of SUDEP. At this stage, we have still not had formal guidance whether epilepsy is wholly exempted, partially exempted or not exempted at all from the Serious Shortage Protocols. The circumstances when this new power can be used by a minister to override prescriptions remain dangerously wide”


Dr David Nicholl, who acted as a whistleblower regarding the Medication Shortages and SSPs spoke about this issue in the context of a No Deal Brexit.


Take a look at our summary page of the Parliamentary debate in March 2019, to understand more about these legal changes and what you can do to support this patient safety campaign.