The government should change the law to ‘allow dispensing without a pharmacist on site’, a new report commissioned by the sector’s negotiator has recommended.

The new blueprint, published today by the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund, added that pharmacy technicians should be trained to ‘have the skills and ability to provide much of the dispensing role and therefore free up pharmacist capacity to focus more on the complex and high-risk medications’.

And co-author Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust, told the press this week that technological advances could help maintain patient safety even in the scenario of a pharmacist’s absence.

The report, commissioned by Community Pharmacy England (CPE), sets out a vision for community pharmacies to provide more clinical services to patients, even managing some long-term conditions, over the next five to 10 years.

And it outlined concerns raised within the sector that some current regulations, such as the need to have a pharmacist on site for dispensing, ‘may be hindering’ the ‘collaboration and innovation’ required to execute this vision, ‘particularly in the efficient development of skill mix in the pharmacy workforce’.

It recommended that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) make legislative changes to ‘allow dispensing without a pharmacist on site’, as well as the ‘development of systems that allow safe and accurate dispensing in this scenario’.

‘This will level the playing field between dispensing general practice and community pharmacy, and give community pharmacists the opportunity to collaborate with the wider system,’ the report said.

‘It may also offer opportunities to ensure that community pharmacy services can be financially viable in rural areas.’

A cross-sector group reviewing the issue of pharmacy supervision recently suggested that responsible pharmacists should be allowed to delegate aspects of the preparation, assembly, sale and supply of medicines to appropriate members of the pharmacy team in defined circumstances.

And they proposed that legislation be amended to allow the preparation and assembly of medicines to take place outside of the pharmacy’s opening hours, without a responsible pharmacist signed in.

But the group agreed that having a pharmacist physically present in the pharmacy was ‘an important and defining element of community pharmacy’, though members disagreed about whether this should be embedded in primary legislation or specified elsewhere.

However, co-author Ms Buckingham told press this week that she stood by the vision’s recommendation that dispensing without a pharmacist on site should be allowed.

She said that the much-debated issue was likely to come up again, as the report had found that it was ‘such a fundamental barrier to being able to make the best use of the skills across the team’.

And she said that technological advances could help to maintain patient safety in this scenario.

‘The general point about the current regulatory framework, making it difficult to maximise the benefit of the multidisciplinary team came out very frequently in our interviews,’ Ms Buckingham told press this week.

She added that this came alongside a ‘very, very strong push for that to be reviewed in a way which is consistent with maintaining patient safety’.

And she added that the think tank had received ‘quite a number of suggestions around how technology and the way in which technology is advancing can help with that’.

‘So, I think we would stand by it as a as a recommendation,’ Ms Buckingham added.