The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has today launched its consultation into pharmacy supervision.

It proposes to:

  • enable pharmacists to authorise pharmacy technicians to carry out, or supervise others carrying out, the preparation, assembly, dispensing, sale and supply of medicines
  • enable pharmacists to authorise any member of the pharmacy team to hand out checked and bagged prescriptions in the absence of a pharmacist
  • allow pharmacy technicians to take primary responsibility for the preparation, assembly and dispensing of medicinal products in hospital aseptic facilities

The UK's four chief pharmaceutical officers (CPhOs) stressed that the proposals were ‘not a move towards allowing pharmacists to remotely supervise a community pharmacy’.

‘Physical presence of the responsible pharmacist in a retail pharmacy as the default is enshrined in primary legislation that is not being changed as part of this reform’, they added in a foreword to the consultation.

Instead, the changes would enable the pharmacist to provide more clinical services from the pharmacy, the CPhOs suggested.

‘We must enable pharmacists to spend less time on activities that can be safely delegated, more time on providing clinical services, and provide clarity both on how the legal framework applies, and the accountability between professionals for tasks undertaken at the pharmacy,’ they said.

And they emphasised that they ‘continue to believe firmly that there should be a pharmacist responsible for every pharmacy premises and a registered pharmacy professional responsible for the dispensing of medicines’.

The consultation will be open for 12 weeks, and then work will need to be undertaken by regulators and professional bodies before pharmacy technicians could be authorised to take on responsibility for running a dispensary under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Following the formal UK-wide consultation, which the DHSC previously said would be published this autumn, legislation would then need to be approved by parliament before final publication, which DHSC has previously said could be as early as spring 2024.

The consultation on pharmacy supervision follows the conclusion of the discussions and published report from the Pharmacy Supervision Practice Group.

Sector leaders have said that while they may continue to hold varied opinions about pharmacy supervision, their recent collective report represents a ‘consensus’ recommendation to government.

The report suggested that the preparation, assembly and sale and supply of medicines be separated as distinct areas of responsibility – aspects of which can be delegated to appropriate members of the pharmacy team in defined circumstances.

The cross-sector group also came to a consensus on the need to maintain the physical presence of a pharmacist in the pharmacy.

Commenting on the consultation, the four UK CPhOs said that the proposals would 'improve future patient care' and 'enable pharmacists to spend a greater proportion of their time delivering patient-facing clinical services – using their training and expertise, including prescribing, to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and local communities'.

They also said that the proposed changes would 'improve career progression for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and ensure they are using their training and skills to contribute to the best of their professional ability as part of the NHS team'.

And primary care minister Dame Andrea Leadsom said: 'This is about making the most of the talents of our excellent and highly trained pharmacy staff, to benefit them and their patients, and improve service delivery more generally.

'By giving pharmacy technicians the chance to use their skills in a safe way and take on more responsibility for dispensing, pharmacists will have more time to carry out the clinical assessments they are trained to do.'

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association, welcomed the 'long-awaited consultation', commenting that the proposed changes 'provide the basis for the greatest evolution in pharmacy practice for 70 years'.

He said that the proposals would 'free up pharmacists to spend more time with patients and deliver more NHS services', and mean that patients would 'no longer have to wait for a pharmacist to be present to receive prescribed medicines that have already been bagged up, checked and are ready to go'.

But he warned: 'These changes alone will not halt the alarming rise in pharmacy closures.'

He added: 'Whilst the government has recently announced funding for pharmacies to deliver new urgent care services, historic underfunding of the sector has led to a net loss of over 1,000 pharmacies since 2015.

'Failing to address the underlying inadequacies of the funding for medicines supply will lead to more medicines shortages and longer waiting times in the pharmacies that remain. We need a funding model that will maintain the national network of pharmacies, for the sake of patients and the NHS.'

This is a breaking news story - more to follow.

RPS: A ‘real opportunity’ to tackle burnout

Speaking to The Pharmacist ahead of the publication of the consultation, the director for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England said that upcoming legislation to free up capacity in community pharmacy could be a ‘real opportunity’ to tackle burnout in the sector.

In an interview with The Pharmacist last month, RPS England director James Davies suggested that allowing more work to be delegated to pharmacy technicians would ‘hopefully’ enable a greater range of services such as Pharmacy First, by putting more pharmacists ‘in a situation where they feel more comfortable and confident to be able to do a wider range of services in the community.’

He also said that while proposed legislative changes to enable hub and spoke dispensing, expected within the next year, would ‘probably not’ free up capacity on ‘some of the scales that might have already been anticipated’, it had the potential to ‘release at least some capacity to support services’.

And he suggested that legislative changes to free up pharmacist capacity could play a ‘key’ role in reducing burnout in the community pharmacy sector.

‘I know how hard pharmacists – community pharmacists, particularly – at the moment are struggling with [the] workload that they're under. And I think that's why it's really key that some of the supervision changes, some of these hub and spoke changes, some of these other things can happen to release that capacity,’ he said.

‘If we just keep piling more and more on to people that are already, as the RPS surveys have shown and the work we do with Pharmacist Support [has shown], in a state of burnout, that's not going to be helpful for anyone, it’s not going to be helpful for our patients.’

But he said that ‘where we're getting that change in the work pattern, in the skill mix, and then adding that into the additional services that are coming through, I see that as a real, real opportunity’.