The medical community in Wales in the UK apprehends the government move to stop funding a monthly bulletin for doctors could have implications for patient safety.
The Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, which is currently sent to every one of Wales' 2,500 GPs will be rationed before funding for the publication is pulled completely.
AdvertisementFor the next four months only one copy of the independent bulletin will be sent to each GP practice and hospital department. It will still be available electronically.
Doctors have spoken of their incredulity at the false economy of the move by the Welsh Assembly Government.
They claim the decision could have serious implications for patient safety and could change the way doctors prescribe medicines.
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said: "It is incredible that the Health Minister has made this short-term decision that funding for the bulletin is being restricted and then ended completely.
"The minister's decision to reduce the distribution of the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin to one copy per GP surgery and one copy per hospital department until March next year, and cease funding altogether after that, is one that will impact heavily on the ability of doctors to treat patients safely.
"The bulletin is a vital tool for doctors which is now in jeopardy."
He added: "Evidence-based prescribing is essential in order to provide good quality healthcare to patients.
"Complications through both overuse and underuse of drugs can lead to emergency hospital admissions and the wastage of medicines, leading to unnecessary costs for the NHS in Wales.
"While we agree that with technology moving into a new dimension and confirmation that the bulletin will be available to all clinicians electronically, we are still concerned that not having the bulletins available in paper form could cause problems with home visits and emergency call outs or if computers fail."
The bulletin, which is sent out every month to doctors, gives independent advice and has been described as an "indispensable" tool for all doctors who prescribes medicines to patients.
It provides unbiased information on medical conditions, medicines and other treatments to enable people to make informed choices. It is independent of the pharmaceutical industry, government and other regulatory authorities and does not rely on advertising or other forms of commercial sponsorship.
The bulletin is distributed across Wales by the Welsh Medicines Resource Centre based in Llandough Hospital.
Health Minister Edwina Hart has said that she will not be able to fund the distribution from December 2008.
Dr David Bailey, chairman of the Welsh GP Committee and a GP in Trethomas, said: "This is one of the few pieces of documentation that virtually all GPs read and is entirely on the side of careful spending in the NHS.
"Taking away this very cheap piece of information is almost certainly going to affect people's prescribing decisions and will save far less money than it will cost in the long-term."
Dr Andrew Dearden, chairman of the BMA's Welsh Council and a Cardiff GP, added: "This move of the Assembly Government to de-fund an important part of the NHS' information system about drugs is indeed strange.
"This bulletin plays a vital part in medicine safety and in helping doctors choose the right drug for each and every patient in Wales.
"When the minister says she cannot afford to make sure each practising clinician has this up-to-date information to hand, she is, in effect, saying she cannot afford patient safety."
This is not the first threat to the availability of information about medicines in Wales - the Assembly Government last year cut the number of copies of the British National Formulary it orders for the NHS.
An Assembly Government spokeswoman said: "The minister has recently reviewed the budget allocations across her portfolio and after careful consideration of all the existing commitments and all new demands that are being made of the NHS, she has determined that she will not be able to fund hard copies of the bulletin from March.
"This decision was not taken lightly, and the bulletin will still be available electronically.
"The minister will reconsider funding in 12 months time and it might be possible to fund hard copies in 2010/11."