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Legal validity of prescriptions extended from six to 12 months

By Irish Pharmacist - 01st Apr 2024

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) – Ireland’s pharmacy regulator – and the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) have welcomed the announcement from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that the maximum legal validity of prescriptions has been extended from six to 12 months.

This change is being introduced following the Minister’s acceptance of a recommendation from the Expert Taskforce on the expansion of the role of pharmacists.

Under legislation just published, doctors and other prescribers may issue prescriptions that are valid for up to 12 months. In addition, from September 1 (ie, six months after the introduction of the legislation), pharmacists can extend certain prescriptions that have been written for six months and continue to dispense them for a further six months. The decision on extending a prescription will be subject to the professional and clinical judgment of the pharmacist, who will consider the ongoing need for the medication, and whether the extension is in the best interest of the patient. It will apply to prescriptions dated on or after March 1, 2024.

The PSI has published information for the public and pharmacists about the work of the Expert Taskforce and the implementation of the first recommendation, which can be found on its website www.psi.ie. It is also developing updated guidelines to support pharmacists with the safe introduction of this change to their practice.

“We welcome the implementation of this recommendation of the Expert Taskforce as a first step in expanding the role of pharmacists in Ireland with the aim of improving patient access, streamlining healthcare delivery, and contributing to better patient outcomes,” said Joanne Kissane, Registrar and Chief Officer, PSI, and a member of the Expert Taskforce.

“As experts in medicines, we are confident that pharmacists possess the knowledge and skills necessary to safely introduce this change into their practice. As the pharmacy regulator, the PSI protects the health, safety, and wellbeing of patients and the public by regulating pharmacists and pharmacies in Ireland. As part of our remit to ensure the public has access to trusted pharmacy services, we will play our part in ensuring pharmacists are clear about what is required when making decisions to extend prescriptions by providing relevant information, guidance, and supports.”

The PSI is an active member of the Expert Taskforce established by Minister Donnelly to support the expansion of the role of pharmacy. The Taskforce is made up of 13 members with specific expertise, perspective, and competence in pharmacy education and practice, healthcare policy and delivery, and other related disciplines. Set up in July 2023, the Taskforce is continuing to meet fortnightly and is advising on a comprehensive approach to empower pharmacists to prescribe within their scope of practice.  

IPU Acting Secretary General Derek Reilly said: “The use of prescription extension was highly successful during the pandemic and this announcement will be welcomed by patients across the country. This measure will prevent the need for a large number of patients visiting a GP for routine repeat prescriptions. However, the true value of prescription extension to patients will only be seen when pharmacists are given similar clinical discretion. This will facilitate patients to seek an extension of a prescription directly from their pharmacist.

“When a patient is on an effective medication, the pharmacist will use their clinical expertise in collaboration with patients to assess the stability of clinical regime, adherence to and complexity of medication, side effects or the absence of these in the provision of prescription extension. Pharmacist-based prescription extensions will make a huge difference to the patient experience and will also alleviate pressure on GPs.”

“Pharmacists are eagerly awaiting the introduction of this element of prescription extension and future recommendations of the Expert Taskforce to enable pharmacist prescribing. However, it will need to be adequately resourced. The act of reviewing a medication and determining if it is clinically appropriate to extend must be funded appropriately and must reflect and recognise the unique skillset of pharmacists as medicines experts and their commitment to providing continuity of pharmaceutical care to their patients.

“Pharmacists are highly trained professionals capable of administering a broad range of additional services including the prescription extension initiative and we look forward to being consulted in relation to the roll-out and implementation of any new schemes, and the funding for these services will need to be agreed as part of the ongoing discussions with the Department of Health.”

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