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Home > Government's priorities for the year ahead: statements (resumed) (continued).

[Oireachtas] Government's priorities for the year ahead: statements (resumed) (continued). (06 Mar 2014)

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…….Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): I am pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Government's priorities for the year ahead. In this short summary, I propose to outline my own priorities as Minister of State in the Department of Health with special responsibility for the primary care sector strategy. As Members are aware, legislation currently is being drafted to extend eligibility for general practitioner, GP, services without fees to all children under six as the first step in implementing universal access to GP care without fees and I will address this aspect of my work presently. I also have responsibility for the national drugs strategy and the Government's alcohol policy and I will address these also. 

However, before so doing, I wish to take this opportunity to refer briefly to amendments I propose to make to the misuse of drugs regulations. Some of these amendments arise from serious concerns regarding the increased availability of benzodiazepines and so-called z-drugs. A wide-ranging consultation process in respect of proposed amendments to the misuse of drugs regulations was held in July 2012 with key stakeholders on the various aspects proposed regarding the amendments the Government had in mind. Draft regulations then were prepared and placed on the Department's website, inviting further comment by early September 2013. More than 90 submissions, some of which were very extensive and detailed, have been received from a wide range of organisations and individuals representing the medical, nursing and pharmacy sectors, as well as private and public hospitals, nursing homes, addiction clinics, drug treatment centres and others. The proposed amendments to the regulations include measures to place additional controls on benzodiazepines and z-drugs with regard to the licensing in respect of importation and export and to introduce an offence of unauthorised possession of benzodiazepines and z-drugs. In addition, stricter prescribing and dispensing rules also are contained in the proposed changes. It also is proposed to require all community pharmacists to notify all controlled drug prescriptions to the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, and to expand the list of controlled drugs and the clinical settings in which these drugs may be prescribed by a nurse and midwife prescribers. I believe Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan recently tabled a parliamentary question in respect of Sativex and another proposal is to allow for the prescribing of the cannabis-based medicinal product, Sativex. Others are to exempt methadone and suboxone prescriptions from prescription handwriting requirements and to control new psychoactive substances.
As Members will gather from that lengthy list and the complexity of some of the proposed changes, it has taken a longer time to prepare and bring forward these regulations than the Government originally had hoped. In fact, the Department still is engaging in the process of collating and analysing the various submissions it has received. However, in order to avoid delaying any longer on those aspects of the changes that can be brought forward now without much further analysis or review, I now propose to progress this matter in two separate phases. I have approved the following three matters to be carried out immediately or in early course, namely, to expand the list of controlled drugs and the clinical settings in which they may be prescribed by nurse and midwife prescribers, to allow for the prescribing of the cannabis-based medicinal product Sativex and to exempt methadone and suboxone prescriptions from prescription handwriting requirements applicable to Schedule 2 controlled drugs. Just as soon as these matters are settled by drafting counsel, I can sign these regulations. There is no legislative requirement to go to Government, as no additional substances are to be subject to control. The remaining matters on the list I have just read out will be progressed and I will bring forward those amended regulations as soon as possible. However, Members will appreciate it is better to proceed now with the changes that can be made without any further delay and then take some further time to deal with those that require further analysis and consideration.
In respect of the national drugs strategy, the Government remains fully committed to the implementation of a series of actions set out in the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016. Towards the end of 2013, I completed a series of bilateral meetings with Ministers and participating agencies, as well as representatives of the community and voluntary sectors. These meetings dealt with the specific actions for which the various different bodies have specific responsibility, thus improving the overall level of co-operation and collaboration that is essential in this area. Following a review of the local and regional drugs task forces, a number of decisions were made to improve the operation and efficiency of the drug task forces.
These included the setting up of a national co-ordinating committee to guide the work of the drug and alcohol task forces, as they are now to be named and to ensure the ongoing implementation of the national drugs strategy, clearer terms of reference and corporate governance guidelines for drug and alcohol task forces, measures to encourage more public representative involvement in the work of drug and alcohol task forces and a review of the number and boundaries of drugs task forces, mainly in Dublin….

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