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UK's GMC updates guidance for doctors

For the first time, the UK's General Medical Council is proposing that doctors can prescribe a cheaper off-label alternative to a licensed medicine under certain conditions

For the first time, the UK's regulator of doctors, the General Medical Council (GMC), is proposing that doctors can prescribe a cheaper off-label alternative to a licensed medicine, as long as it is approved in authoritative clinical guidelines and is just as safe and effective for the patient.

In its latest guidance document, 'Good practice in prescribing and managing medicines and devices' (pdf), which opens to consultation today (April 6), the GMC puts forward new standards designed to make prescribing safer for patients and to support doctors in managing medicines.

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

Doctors are also being asked to raise, and respond constructively to, concerns raised by colleagues and patients about adverse incidents and near-misses involving the use of medicines and medical devices.

Tough standards for doctors working in sports medicine are set out for the first time, including guidance that says doctors who suspect that athletes' performance is improperly enhanced should raise concerns when it is in the public interest.

The consultation also reiterates that doctors should avoid prescribing for themselves and their families and that controlled drugs should only be prescribed in an emergency, when lives or health are at serious risk.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, 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.

"We want to hear the views of doctors, patients, carers and other health professionals about the difficult decisions doctors can face when prescribing and how doctors can help their patients better understand the information about the medicines they are taking."

The consultation opens today and will run until May 27, 2011. Doctors, other health professionals and members of the public who are interested in sharing their views are invited to take part.

6th April 2011

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