HDA Media And Political Bulletin – 4 March 2016

Service alert: Error with some EPS Release One (R1) prescriptions

2 March 2016, PSNC

The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) have published a news item regarding an issue with the use of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS):  One GP system supplier has been working with HSCIC to fix an error. The error meant that some GP practices were able to send Schedule 2/3 Controlled Drug prescriptions via Release 1 (barcoded). Usually such prescriptions should not be transmitted via Release 1.

If pharmacy teams come across affected prescriptions the solution is:

  • Dispense the prescription as if it had been a paper one – the paper element is the legal one and both words and figures appear on the physical prescription;
  • Don’t scan the barcode, but if you do this will not cause an issue.
  • HSCIC explain affected prescriptions should be some of those Release 1 controlled drug prescriptions dating between 26th February and 2nd March. The relevant GP system implemented a fix today.

This issue does not impact EPS Release 2 prescriptions.

Identifying other issues with the national EPS systems

PSNC recommends to be aware of possible future issues, pharmacy teams use the following three EPS tools:

  • Alerts: Staff can register to receive text or email alerts in the event that the national HSCIC systems that support EPS are experiencing issues at tinyurl.com/Spinealerts.
  • Checker: Visit the HSCIC service status checker webpage which provides information about the status of the national systems at tinyurl.com/EPSchecker.
  • Tracker: The EPS Prescription Tracker webpage provides information on the status of individual prescriptions at tinyurl.com/EPStracker.


DH rejects calls to vaccinate all under-11s against men B

3 March 2016, Chemist and Druggist, Beth Kennedy

The Department of Health has rejected a call to vaccinate more children against meningitis B stating that it wasn’t “cost-effective”. The government has however agreed to a debate in the House of Commons.


This news was also reported by Pharmacy Biz. In The Guardian, Polly Toynbee welcomes this decision. She argues that as health spending is rationed, it is important to have rules as to which treatments or vaccination programmes are good value for money.

Parliamentary Coverage


There is no Parliamentary coverage today.


Full Coverage


2 March 2016, Pharmacy Biz, Neil Trainis


The government has rejected calls for the meningitis B vaccine to be offered to all children under the age of 11 on cost grounds.

Pressure has been growing for Bexsero to be made available to children above the age of one. At the moment infants aged two months are eligible, with another dose at four months and a booster at 12 months.

The death of two-year-old Faye Burdett from meningitis intensified public support for the treatment to be made available to older children. A parlimentary petition pushing the case for expanding its availability has also gained over 800,000 signatures, ensuring a parliamentary debate.

The government, however, remains unmoved and said: “National immunisation programmes are introduced on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the independent expert body that advises the Government on all immunisation matters.

“JCVI reviewed all available evidence before it advised on eligibility for the Bexsero vaccine. It recommended that MenB immunisation should be routinely offered to the group of children at the highest risk – infants at two months of age with a further dose at four months and a booster at 12 months, provided that the vaccine could be procured at a cost-effective price.

“There is a duty on the Secretary of State for Health to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the recommendations of the JCVI, are implemented.”


On meningitis B vaccination, the government has got it right – for once

3 March 2016, The Guardian, Polly Toynbee


Rationing is a word politicians shy away from. Luckily for the rest of us, experts and patients are not so squeamish about choosing health priorities

Few things terrify parents more than the threat of meningitis. Any fever might turn out to be this most horrible and rapid of diseases, early signs of which are easily missed by medics (let alone by unqualified NHS 111toilet telephone operators).

The biggest petition signed in parliamentary history calls for vaccination of children up to the age of 11 against meningitis B. After the death in February of two-year-old Faye Burdett, the campaign really took off. But the department of health has ruled against mass vaccination, restricting this to infants of two to four months old. Why? Because, says the department, it would not be cost effective.

The organiser of the petition, Lee Booth, responded, saying: “It beggars belief, really, that the government are putting costs ahead of saving children’s lives.”

That’s a heartfelt cry, echoed by most citizens in such pleas for lifesaving treatments. At a time when the NHS has never been so brutally squeezed financially, its share of UK GDP spending falling lower year by year, his protest might sound reasonable.

But on the principle behind this one, the government is right for once. All health spending is rationed, and it always will be, regardless of who is paying, whether that’s private insurance companies or the state, through the taxpayer.

That means there have to be rules as to which treatments or vaccination programmes are good value for money, taking into account what else that money would buy and how many other lives could be saved or improved by it.

The health economist Prof Alan Maynard is one of the devisers of the QALY concept, or the quality-adjusted life year. This is the system used for measuring how much health gain is produced for each pound spent for any particular health intervention.

Currently, the rule of thumb is that a year of life of good quality is worth £30,000. That’s the scale the drug companies should work to when trying to sell a new drug to the NHS: if it costs more, or offers less, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) should rule it out.

In 2014-15 there were 418 cases of meningitis B, 240 of them children; 25 people died. Maynard says meningitis B deaths are tragic, but for a vaccination programme “the benefits are positive but not great, while the costs are enormous. It’s a classic example of the opportunity costs, where you would deprive many other patients of things for which they would benefit.”

Labour set up Nice to benchmark drugs and treatments to provide a rational basis for rationing – one of it best acts. David Cameron, in opposition did what irresponsible oppositions often do, and supported a Daily Mail drive to provide the most expensive cancer drugs, which might prolong the very last stage of life for a few months longer.

By setting up a special cancer drugs fund he broke the principles of Nice, providing high-cost drugs regardless of their QALY benefits.

A recent report from the National Audit Office has just lambasted the fund’s operation. Not only did it bust its budget, letting drug companies rip, but there was no evaluation of how well those drugs did at extending life, or of the effects or value of them. As a result, the fund has been all but folded into Nice.

Rationing is a word politicians shy away from. It’s painful and distasteful to coldly calculate human life and suffering in hard cash. But someone has to, and committees comprised of experts, lay people and patient members are there to do it.

The joint committee on vaccines and immunisation has so far ruled that vaccinating all children against meningitis B is not value for money – and it takes a measure of fortitude for the politicians to bow to such expertise against a hailstorm of public opinion.

For some years, I was a lay member of the national screening committee, weighing up excruciating choices about which diseases it was worth screening for. There was great pressure for a universal prostate cancer programme, but at the time it failed to cross the threshold: the test provided many too many false negatives and false positives, and the treatment was uncertain. It would unearth many cases for treatment in people who would never have died of it. There was much protest from those who said it should be the men’s equivalent of the mass breast cancer screening programme.

But later the bowel cancer screening project did pass the test for efficacy, producing clear enough results and good enough life-saving treatment: good, value-for-money QALYs. Choosing health priorities means making cruel decisions; politicians are wise to leave it to experts and stay out of it.

As for saving lives, air pollution causes at least 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, according to new report from the Royal College of Physicians. Deaths aplenty could be avoided for relatively low cost in many fields – but nothing stirs up public indignation more than the NHS denying ultra-expensive treatments to save a few people.

Behind the scenes, cost is often a matter of drug companies scalping the NHS: Novartis was charging far too high a sum for the meningitis B vaccine. When it sold it on to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the price came down enough to make it worthwhile for the youngest babies. If GSK reduced the price further, that might yield enough QALYs to vaccinate all children. Money is at the wicked heart of many matters of life and death. Just ask the drug companies.

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