The Department of Health Hong Kong recently launched the pilot programme of the Accredited Registers Scheme (AR Scheme), covering 15 supplementary healthcare professions, including dispensers.

Concerns over dispensers being recognised as a professional body

At present, there are approximately 2,000 pharmacists and 10,000 dispensers in Hong Kong. Dispensers commonly work in pharmacies, hospitals, private clinics or nursing homes as pharmacist’s assistants, and are not qualified for independent dispensing.

The Practising Pharmacists Association of Hong Kong is concerned that such a scheme may foster destructive effects instead. Pharmacists believe that dispensers are not professionally trained to carry out dispensing without the direct supervision of pharmacists, thus allowing dispensers to dispense independently puts the public’s health and safety at risk.

“Hong Kong is already facing a surplus of pharmacists. The AR Scheme may lead to an overlapping of roles between dispensers and pharmacists. Putting aside the stiff competition between the two professions, such a situation generates serious threats to public health, as a dispenser will not have as much knowledge of pharmacology or medicines as a pharmacist,” said Mr Cho-Hung Chan, Vice President of the Practising Pharmacists Association.

“The existing legislation requires dispensers to dispense under direct supervision of a registered pharmacist or doctor. Independent dispensing is strictly prohibited,” he added.

Unclear standards for accredited dispensers under the AR Scheme

Chan also expressed his concerns over the standards of qualification. “The pilot programme of the AR Scheme does not provide a clear standard of requirement. Since the standards of professional courses for dispensers provided by different schools are erratic, a unified standard seems to be unfeasible,” he explained.

Many formal letters have been sent repeatedly to the government to request the retraction of self-voluntary accreditation registrations for dispensers. The Practising Pharmacists Association of Hong Kong has also said they may demand for judicial review if it is deemed necessary.

Rationale of launching the AR Scheme

On the other hand, the Department of Health has stressed that launching the AR Scheme will not affect the roles of each healthcare profession, and will cause no changes in their relationships with other medical professions.

The AR Scheme was designed to streamline the current registrations in accordance to the principles of professional autonomy, ensuring optimal standards of healthcare providers and to provide more information to the public—to an effect of assisting them in making decisions for such services.

The AR Scheme will be operated under the principle of “one profession, one professional body, one register”. For each profession, accreditation will be granted only when the professional body has met the prescribed standards under the AR Scheme.

Applicants who are accredited will be broadly representative of their fields, and backed up with effective operational mechanisms. The government is not responsible in developing profession-specific operating standards for the professional body. Therefore, while setting standards for healthcare providers it is crucial to be fair and rational, maintaining professional standards including removing substandard healthcare providers. MIMS

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