Doctors can prescribe cheaper drugs under new GMC plans

GPs will be given the right to prescribe cheaper off-label alternatives to licensed medicines under new GMC proposals.

The regulator has launched a consultation on its new guidance Good practice in prescribing and managing medicines and devices. Under the guidance, doctors would be able to prescribe cheaper drug alternatives as long as they have been approved in authoritative clinical guidelines and are just as safe and effective.

Patients buying prescriptions online would also receive greater protection under the guidance, which would require doctors prescribing via websites to liaise with the patient’s GP, unless the patient objects.

Tough standards for doctors working in sports medicine are set out for the first time. Doctors who suspect that an athlete’s performance is improperly enhanced would be expected to raise concerns when it is in the public interest. Meanwhile, doctors are being asked to raise concerns and respond to concerns raised by patients or colleagues about adverse events involving the use of medicines and medical devices.

Doctors are also being reminded not to prescribe for themselves or their families and that controlled drugs should only be prescribed in an emergency.

Part of the new draft guidance covering off-label prescribing states: “You should usually prescribe licensed medicines for their licensed uses; but you may prescribe off-label or unlicensed medicines outside an approved research protocol if there is no appropriately licensed alternative available or you are satisfied, on the basis of authoritative clinical guidance, that it is as safe and effective as an appropriately licensed alternative.”

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “Between 1995 and 2009 the number of drugs prescribed by GPs tripled. It is vital that our guidance on prescribing and managing medicines is up to date and relevant for doctors working today.”

The consultation runs until May 27, 2011. Views can be submitted online at www.gmc-uk.org/prescribing