Special panel to discuss drugs draft bill

Pharmacists have protested against proposals to widen the list of those authorised to prescribe, arguing that their lengthy training and degrees provide expertise that ‘healthcare professionals’ can’t match. (File photo by Apichit Jinakul)

A special committee will be set up to discuss opposing views on a controversial part of a draft bill on pharmaceuticals, which would allow healthcare professionals other than doctors and pharmacists to dispense medications.

The formation of the ad-hoc panel, approved by Public Health Ministry Monday, is seen as a move to ease growing pressure against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Public Health Ministry as the drafters of the bill.

The draft bill was subjected to another round of debates at the Public Health Ministry at Monday’s meeting, attended by more than 500 people. The opinions would be forwarded to Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn for consideration.

The draft bill, which is sponsored by the FDA to replace the 1967 Drug Act, has been put up for public input for seven months. “Most of its contents are welcomed, but the prescription of drugs remains divisive,” said secretary-general of FDA Dr Wanchai Sattayawuthipong.

Among the critics are pharmacists who are demanding that the Public Health Ministry scrap the controversial proposal.

The contentious clause in question is Section 22 (5), which stated that medicines can be prescribed by all healthcare professionals, and requires further ministerial regulations in order to regulate prescriptions by health workers.

Under the 1967 Drug Act, doctors, dentists and veterinarians are allowed to dispense drugs.

Opponents said they are worried the new practice will pose risks to consumers, as other healthcare professionals may lack the adequate knowledge to prescribe drugs.

Jira Wipaswong, president of the Public Health Pharmacy Club, said pharmacists are against the proposal because prescription drugs should be prescribed only by those with adequate medical knowledge.

“The most worrying element is the prescription of drugs by privately run clinics, which are scattered across the country. We are putting people at risk by allowing other healthcare professionals to handle drug prescriptions,” said Mr Jira.

He said pharmacists’ concerns grew after Thailand’s Nursing and Midwifery Council voiced their support for the bill.

In their statement, the Nursing and Midwifery Council claims that nurses and midwives are qualified professionals who are properly educated about basic diagnosis, treatment, and rational use.

The council added that nurses and certified midwives have already been permitted to prescribe 18 groups of drugs.

Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat, the FDA deputy secretary-general, has played down the controversy, saying the bill is intended to close “loopholes” in the current drug act that is often exploited — including the lack of regulation that requires drug manufacturers to renew drug registrations every seven years.

The current law does not require renewal of drug registration, resulting in quality control problems. Several drug licences have been revoked after failing FDA tests.

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