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Henry VIII powers in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill must be limited

Henry VIII powers in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill must be limited

Without due care, extended hub and spoke prescribing powers for pharmacies could lead to an Amazon-style prescription service, putting vital community pharmacies at risk, says Alex Norris MP | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

I have put down an Opposition amendment which will be discussed today, which would limit the powers to two years before requiring Parliamentary approval to extend them.

During the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, we heard a lot about Henry VIII powers – clauses included in bills that allow ministers to amend primary legislation in future without having to go through all the usual Parliamentary processes, a right usually limited to secondary legislation.

This week, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill is in Committee stage.

The purpose of the Bill is to fill the regulatory gap from Brexit, which previously allowed the UK to create its laws around medicines, veterinary medicines and medical devices.

This is a necessary step, and the Government have said their intention is to use these powers to keep the existing regulations up to date, as they should, and the Bill also allows the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to punish breaches relating to medical devices with monetary penalties as an alternative to criminal proceedings.

But that’s not all that’s intended. During the Bill’s Second Reading in March, Matt Hancock highlighted the Government’s desire to innovate – using the powers to support the development of medicines and medical devices as well as amending prescribing powers.

Without due care, extended hub and spoke prescribing powers for pharmacies could lead to an Amazon-style prescription service, putting vital community pharmacies at risk.

I am sure for the most part, this is well-intentioned and welcome, and for example, we welcome the possibility of prescribing powers being expanded to additional healthcare professionals in future, such as occupational therapists, orthoptists or diagnostic radiographers However, there are also risks that come with such powers.

Without due care, extended hub and spoke prescribing powers for pharmacies could lead to an Amazon-style prescription service, putting vital community pharmacies at risk.

It’s for this reason that I believe that there should be limits in place to the Henry VIII powers in the Bill. I have put down an Opposition amendment which will be discussed today, which would limit the powers to two years before requiring Parliamentary approval to extend them.

But I’m not naïve, and with no expectation of it passing due to the Government majority – I’m instead asking the Government to work with us in providing greater transparency into some of the innovations that these powers allow them to make.

One such compromise that could provide an important safeguard is about medicines being developed at Porton Down.

In recent weeks I’ve been contacted by many constituents concerned by the number of animals used in experiments at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory there – 52,000 between 2010 and 2019, at six times the rate of other laboratories across Great Britain.

No animal should be made to suffer unnecessary pain and degradation and the Government should show its commitment to driving up standards and practice in line with the most recent advances and understanding.

Advancements that have taken place over recent years, and non-animal methods for research have developed and improved over time, but the lack of transparency around project licence applications remains a concern.

That’s why I’ve put down New Clause 2 for the Bill, which would require the Secretary of State to provide an annual report covering the medicines that the UK Government is developing.

We have no choice but to pass this Bill, so the Government should listen to our constituents’ concerns and work constructively with the Opposition to make it better.

 

Alex Norris is Labour MP for Nottingham North and shadow health minister for prevention, public health and primary care

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