Thérèse Coffey has admitted she illegally shared prescribed antibiotics with friends and family – amid a backlash over her plans to let patients get medicine without seeing a GP.
The Health Secretary, 50, made the admission during discussions with civil servants last month on how to relieve pressure on GPs.
According to current rules set out by the UK’s medicine regulator, anyone providing prescription antibiotics to someone they are not intended for is breaking the law.
It comes as Ms Coffey’s is currently considering plans to allow pharmacists to prescribe drugs without the approval of a doctor.
Under her ‘Plan for Patients’, pharmacists would instead be given the green light to prescribe drugs, including contraception, without a prescription as part of efforts to help clear up GP waiting lists, The Times reports.
The drugs will still not be available over the counter, but will be made accessible if a pharmacist thinks a patient may have certain conditions.
A source told the newspaper: ‘This was a private remark and personal anecdote in the course of a meeting about antibiotics.
‘She understands the importance of antimicrobial resistance, would encourage people not to share medicines and won’t do so again in the future.’
But Ms Coffey’s proposal has been branded ‘moronic’ and has faced a fierce backlash from doctors.
Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary Therese Coffey pictured leaving Downing Street on Friday
Cambridge University’s Professor Stephen Baker, an expert in molecular microbiology and antimicrobial resistance, yesterday said that overuse of antibiotics would lead to higher chances of drug-resistant disease.
Overuse of antibiotics causes bacteria to evolve resistance to commonly used antibiotics, resulting in common infections becoming deadlier due to lack of effective treatment.
And vital cancer treatments and surgeries may become too dangerous due to the higher risk of untreatable infections.
Only around 1,000 of 27,000 community pharmacists are currently qualified to prescribe some medicines.
Former doctor-come-comedian Adam Kay, writer of autobiographical bestseller This is Going to Hurt and its follow up hit TV adaptation sarcastically commented on Twitter: ‘Ah well, we had nearly 100 years of antibiotics working.’
But the Department for Health and Social Care say claim pharmacists prescribing antibiotics for UTI infections could save 400,000 GP appointments per year and around £8.4million, extrapolating from data from Scotland.
From early next year, NHS England will start piloting services with a prescribing element in at least one ‘pathfinder’ site per regional integrated care board (ICB), using existing community pharmacy prescribers.
Meanwhile, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) expert Professor Penny Ward, of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, told The Telegraph that the plans would leave the AMR community ‘up in arms en masse’.
She says increased use of antibiotics is a driver of around 65,000 people in the UK developing drug-resistant infections each year.
Prof Ward added: ‘The Health Secretary really should take the time to familiarise herself with what is a difficult topic, and consider the broader risk to human health that may emerge from widespread pharmacy use of drugs which would promote antimicrobial resistance, [which could] take us back to the Stone Age.’
Only around 1,000 of 27,000 community pharmacists are currently qualified to prescribe some medicines (stock picture)
A spokesperson for the Health Secretary said: ‘The Secretary of State has explored a range of policy options to relieve pressure on GPs, including whether it is possible to allow greater prescribing by pharmacists – as happens in many places, including Scotland.
‘These wide-ranging discussions included reflections on the importance of anti-microbial resistance and societal behaviours around antibiotics.’
It comes as Ms Coffey is also fighting a battle with union bosses after saying the government will not cough up extra cash to prevent the first ever UK-wide nursing walk-out.
Doubling down on her position with another explosive jibe, Dr Coffey said No10 has ‘already’ helped the public cope with the cost-of-living crisis. She added that nurses have also been offered £1,400, in reality.
Union bosses are demanding nurses get a salary uplift of at least five per cent above inflation, which currently sits at 12.3 per cent.
This would grant the average nurse, who earns roughly £35,600 each year according to the Government, an extra £6,150. But bowing to the union could cost taxpayers an extra £1billion.
‘It is their choice of course if they want to do that,’ Ms Coffey said. ‘But then we also have an open route for people to come into this country who are professional staff.’