LCQ17: Combating acts of reselling drugs prescribed by doctors
It is reported that amid the COVID-19 epidemic, some lawbreakers have falsely claimed to have contracted the disease and sought medical treatment repeatedly in order to obtain prescriptions for COVID-19 oral drugs. There are views that it is imperative that the authorities prevent these lawbreakers from reselling such drugs for profit. Regarding combating acts of reselling drugs prescribed by doctors, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective quantities of COVID-19 oral drugs procured by the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health (DH) since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic and their respective expenses on procuring the drugs; the current stock of such drugs;
(2) whether it investigated in the past year cases of suspected resale of drugs prescribed by doctors of public hospitals or DH; if so, of the number of persons prosecuted, and the penalties imposed on those convicted;
(3) whether the Government will review the existing drug prescription protocols by doctors in public and private healthcare institutions, so as to prevent people from reselling the drugs after obtaining them repeatedly or in large quantities; and
(4) whether the Government has adjusted the strategies for procuring COVID-19 oral drugs to tie in with the new stage of the COVID-19 epidemic?
The reply, in consultation with the Hospital Authority (HA) and the Department of Health (DH), to the question raised by the Hon Edward Leung is as follows:
(1) At present, patients infected with COVID-19 can seek medical treatment from healthcare institutions and doctors in public or private sectors, and doctors will prescribe two registered COVID-19 oral drugs, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, to suitable patients. As of April 2023, more than 376 000 patients have been prescribed with COVID-19 oral drugs through different treatment facilities of the HA or relevant partnership programmes. On the whole, there is currently sufficient stock of drugs in the public healthcare system for prescription to COVID-19 patients, and the Government will ensure that there are sufficient medical resources to meet local needs. Given the commercial sensitivity of drug price information and in order not to prejudice fairness in the drug procurement process, the HA will not disclose the unit prices or expenditure of drugs purchased. The expenditure for the procurement of COVID-19 drugs is absorbed by additional resources provided to the HA for combatting the COVID-19 epidemic.
(2) & (3) The Government has started to provide two COVID-19 oral drugs to public and private doctors since April 2022 for free prescription to "Eligible Persons" who are infected. Private doctors who have registered to use the Electronic Health Record Sharing System (eHRSS) may request the two COVID-19 oral drugs via the dedicated online platform. The Government has all along been monitoring the relevant usage, including the prescription records input by public and private doctors via the relevant systems. Multiple letters have also been sent to private doctors to remind them that the oral drugs obtained via the Government online platform can only be prescribed to "Eligible Persons" who are infected, to input the prescription record at the time of prescription, and to request private doctors to remind patients not to save or transfer the unused drugs.
With a view to further reducing the possibility of the abuse of drugs and facilitating the review of patients' use of medicines by doctors and pharmacists, enhancements have been made by the Government from time to time in accordance with the actual usage of the eHRSS, including the addition of a prompt message in the system to enable doctors and pharmacists of the DH and the HA to view the past records of prescriptions of COVID-19 oral drugs to patients. The HA will also continue to closely monitor the overall prescription of COVID-19 oral drugs and maintain close communication with the Government.
Through the eHRSS, the Government has noticed individual suspicious prescription records of COVID-19 oral drugs earlier, such as patients obtaining COVID-19 oral drugs supplied by the Government from multiple private doctors within a short period of time. The cases have been passed to the law enforcement agency for follow-up investigation. So far, two persons have been arrested by the Police in February and March 2023 respectively. Investigation is still ongoing.
Any person who attempts to obtain COVID-19 oral drugs through improper means (including deceiving doctors) may commit the offence of fraud, which carries the maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment upon conviction. Members of the public should not resell or provide to others prescribed COVID-19 oral drugs legally obtained from doctors, regardless of whether the drugs are supplied by the Government for free or self-purchased from the doctors. Selling, reselling or supplying without payment of drugs requiring a doctor's prescription constitute the related offence under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138), with the maximum penalty of a fine of $100,000 and two years' imprisonment.
Meanwhile, guidelines and fact sheets on the use of COVID-19 oral drugs as well as other points to note formulated by the HA are available for download on the online platform. Private doctors must follow the treatment guidelines set out by the HA in prescribing the relevant drugs to suitable COVID-19 patients for treatment needs. Besides, registered medical practitioners should abide by the relevant laws and the Code of Professional Conduct for the Guidance of Registered Medical Practitioners (the Code) at all times when prescribing drugs, including COVID-19 oral drugs.
The Government will continue to monitor the relevant situation and make adjustments to the use of the online platform at appropriate time subject to the local epidemic situation, drug usage amount and demand, etc.. If any irregularities, criminal acts or contravention of the Code are noticed, the Government will take strict enforcement actions and pass relevant information to law enforcement departments or the Medical Council of Hong Kong for follow-up as appropriate.
(4) Regarding the procurement of drugs for treatment of COVID-19, the HA has been actively communicating and continuing discussions with relevant manufacturers with a view to purchasing and stockpiling drugs suitable for treatment of COVID-19 in a timely manner. The HA will continue to closely monitor the supply and use of relevant drugs to cater for the needs of patients.
Ends/Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Issued at HKT 16:55
Issued at HKT 16:55