Recommendations made to the parliamentary pharmacy inquiry include giving greater powers to non-prescribing pharmacists to vary prescriptions and freeing up pharmacists for a more clinical, patient-facing role.

Speaking to the health and social care committee (HSCC) last week, the chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) suggested that changes needed to be made to make the most of the clinical capabilities of the non-prescribing workforce.

Duncan Rudkin proposed considering how non-prescribing pharmacists could be enabled ‘to vary what they supply against prescription’.

Though changes to pharmacist training will mean that all new pharmacists from 2026 will qualify as prescribers at the point of registration, around 40,000 pharmacists are still on the register who are not yet prescribers, Mr Rudkin said.

Even if every pharmacist chose to train as a prescriber, this would take some time, and the GPhC expects that a large amount of the workforce will remain as non-prescribers for now.

‘It's important we don't we don't miss out on that large number and focus all of our energy on the new ones,’ he added.

Mr Rudkin also made recommendations to the committee to enable pharmacists to do more clinical work, including looking at ‘whether there's more that can be done’ with serious shortage protocols (SSPs) and enabling pharmacist prescribers to prescribe alternatives in the case of medicines shortages.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has previously called for a change in the law that would allow pharmacists to make minor amendments to prescriptions to supply patients with medicines, without the need for a SSP, while similar calls have been made by Community Pharmacy England (CPE).

At the pharmacy inquiry last week, Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) chair Mark Koziol suggested that the committee recommend to government that the sector should ‘start working smart and not just working hard’ by giving pharmacists a key role in medicines management.

‘Get pharmacists to be pharmacists in the healthcare system, get them to focus on medicines issues, because that will be to the benefit of the public [and] to the benefit the NHS,’ Mr Koziol said.

In particular, he suggested that community pharmacy manage ‘maintenance doses’ of medication for conditions that have already been diagnosed by a GP – such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Pharmacist independent prescribing on a widespread scale would bring an ‘exciting possibility’ for pharmacists to become a ‘patient's medicines champion’, he added.

Clinical work done by pharmacists could consist of ‘appointment led caseload work where we're taking pre-diagnosed patients from doctors and helping them maintain their diabetes medicines, their asthma preparations’, said Mr Koziol.

This could come alongside a ‘population health model’, which could see a community pharmacist make clinical recommendations on over-the-counter medication based on knowledge of the patient’s other medications and conditions.

‘That's the kind of clinical application in a population health model that community pharmacists could be,’ he said.

But to enable this, more than one pharmacist per pharmacy would be needed, he said.

‘The existing workforce infrastructure is so fragile, you couldn't add any more services in on top of it, because it's already at breaking point,’ Mr Koziol told the inquiry.

‘So, you need to start moving the community pharmacy, so it becomes more of a clinical operation with more than one pharmacist working there, and at least more than the complement of pharmacy technicians that we've got at the moment, which is one per two pharmacists,’ he said.

The pharmacist workforce ‘want to care for patients, they want to use the skills that they’ve been taught at university to best effect’, Mr Koziol added.

‘If we could create a safe environment where they could spend enough time with patients, they would embrace that clinical role,’ he said.

Technology could also play a role in freeing up pharmacist time to provide patient services, he noted.

If pharmacists could move away from being involved in the purchasing, sourcing and buying or medications and towards a situation where all prescriptions are generated electronically and where medicines are already ‘pre-bagged and pre-checked’, Mr Koziol suggested pharmacists could spend ‘all of their time on clinical issues, as opposed to assembly and preparation’.

He said there ‘is technology out there that can enable that to happen’.

And he highlighted recommendations from the cross-sector supervision group that proposed legislative change to enable this.