Support staff use doctors’ log-ins for ‘illegal’ prescriptions, medic claims


Physician associates (PAs) have used doctors’ log-ins to illegally order prescriptions, a medic has claimed.

One junior doctor alleged that the electronic prescribing systems in place at many NHS trusts are open to abuse.

The medic claimed that while working at Dudley Group NHS Trust, “more than one” PA had used the junior doctor’s log-in to prescribe. These incidents occurred when the medic was called away from the ward to attend medical emergencies, a situation that left them no time to log off.

Unlike doctors, PAs complete only a two-year postgraduate course and do not have the right to prescribe drugs.

The allegation that PAs have wrongfully accessed prescriptions using clinicians’ log-in details comes after The Telegraph reported that doctors at 24 trusts in England believe associates have illegally ordered drugs and scans with “ionising radiation”.

These claims come from a dossier of over 600 doctors’ responses to a survey on PAs run by Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK).

‘Grave concerns’

Dr Matt Kneale, the campaign group’s co-chairman, said that the survey “exposes grave concerns around physician associates’ illegal drug prescribing, notably using doctors’ logins without consent”.

He added that the practice “not only breaches legal and ethical standards but also endangers patient safety”.

The dossier’s claims continue to cause concern among peers, who will soon decide on legislation that will enable the General Medical Council to licence PAs.

Baroness Brinton, the Liberal Democrats’ former health spokesman, said that promoting PAs “sounded like a sensible proposal” when it was put forward a couple of years ago, but that “what has panned out is just absolutely not what we understood then”.

An analysis of the DAUK data reveals that the “misuse” of doctor’s computer log-ins is one of the main ways that medics claim PAs have illegally prescribed drugs in the NHS.

‘Really awkward to ask’

One junior medic said that “when a bleep goes off you have to run to see what’s going on and you don’t always have time to log out of the computer”.

While working at Dudley Group NHS Trust, the doctor said: “More than once, I went to see a sick patient and I had my log-in [on] in the computer and I came back to find a PA using it.

“More than one PA used my log-in to prescribe things for patients,” they said, adding that because they worked with the PA, it was “really awkward to ask them to not use it again, but I had to ask them not to do it again”.

Dr Kneale said: “Despite the discomfort around reporting colleagues, it’s imperative for medical professionals to voice these issues to uphold patient care and safety standards.”

The NHS said PAs should always work “with the appropriate supervision and within the scope of their practice, with prescriptions only ever made by those with legal authority to do so”.

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