At a glance: Substance name-change briefing from the MHRA

Why do we need to change the names of existing substances? To reduce the risk of medication error. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will be in charge of altering selected substance names from British Approved Names (BANs) to International Non-Proprietary Names (rINNs) – the system set down by the World Health Organisation. The Government’s advisory body, the Medicines Commission, recommended the change because some substances are available under two names in UK medicines.

So PROs have work to do?

They will have a key role in ensuring that the relevant people know exactly what substances in their products are now called, since health professionals are being asked to start using rINNs by July. Pharma companies have until December to make the necessary changes to licences and product labelling. Where the rINN is not the active substance of the product, companies will have until December 2005 to reflect the changes.

Isn’t the Government overstating the problem?

In a lot of cases, the BAN and rINN of a product are exactly the same, so no difficulty there. But there are inconsistencies that could create mistakes when it comes to prescribing. That’s unlikely to be a problem between, say, amoxycillin and amoxicillin, but other names are unrelated, such as benzhexol and trihexphenidyl.

Why can’t manufacturers just put both names on packaging?

The consultation on this decided that would prolong confusion, and the industry has been moving towards rINNs anyway.

But these wouldn’t be proper health guidelines without some exceptions?

Spot on. Doctors are being told to continue using the BANs for adrenaline and noradrenaline, not least because they are so widely used in emergency medicine.

How do I know which substances are on the list?

A full list is on the MHRA website.

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