The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is set to discuss supervision legislation with its members in a closed conversation tonight.

This follows ongoing conversations within a sector-wide working group about what the future of pharmacy supervision will look like.

And it comes after the health and social care secretary appeared to hint at changes to supervision regulations in a speech made at the Centre for Policy Studies.

The NPA has invited its members to a conversation with Helga Mangion, NPA head of policy, about what community pharmacy supervision ‘should look and feel like’, and how the organisation can ‘enable the legislation needed to pursue a more clinical pharmacy service’.

Current legislation states that the sale of medicinal products must be carried out by a pharmacist or under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Previous case law has suggested that this means that a pharmacist must be physically present for the dispensing of medicines.

But the legal definition of ‘supervision’ is unclear. A 2018 UK-wide consultation on legislation around the role of Responsible Pharmacists and Superintendent Pharmacists found that further clarity around the definition of supervision was needed.

In response, a working group was launched in February to work with the government to help shape future legislation, which is expected later this year.

It includes representatives from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, Association of Pharmacy Technicians, Company Chemists’ Association, the National Pharmacy Association, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, Pharmacy Forum Northern Ireland and The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

Reportedly, discussions have so far been positive, collaborative and willing to find common ground that benefits both patients and the pharmacy workforce.

Health secretary Steve Barclay recently seemed to hint at upcoming changes to supervision legislation.

Speaking at a Centre for Policy Studies think tank event ahead of the NHS’s 75th birthday last month, the health secretary said the government was ‘cutting red tape’ in pharmacy, including by changing the rules on patients collecting medication without a pharmacist present.

‘At the moment the rules say you cannot collect your medicine if the pharmacist isn’t there. Even if they have bagged it up ready. We are changing that,’ he said in a speech delivered on 27 June and published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last week.

Original pack dispensing

In his speech at the Centre for Policy Studies, the health secretary also referred to changes on original pack dispensing (OPD), which will allow pharmacists to dispense medicines according to the amount contained in the original pack, even if this up to 10% more or less than the amount prescribed.

‘The rules say they must deliver the exact quantities of medicines prescribed – so pharmacists waste time opening boxes and snipping up pill packs. We are removing that burden,’ said Mr Barclay in his speech.

The government has already announced that it will amend the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to allow OPD at the pharmacist’s discretion.

But when the changes were announced in March, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) told The Pharmacist that the long-awaited reforms would not affect NHS England dispensing until reimbursement and remuneration issues had been resolved through discussions with the negotiator.

Hub and Spoke

Mr Barclay also told delegates at the Centre for Policy Studies that ‘the rules make pharmacists waste time supervising basic tasks and ban modern ways of doing things like “hub and spoke” models’. ‘We’ll change that,’ he added.

Hub and spoke dispensing was cited in the recent NHS workforce plan as a way to free up capacity within community pharmacy to deliver more clinical services.

But critics have suggested that the proposals may not deliver many efficiency savings for the sector.

Following the publication of the workforce plan last month, CPE said that as well as legislative change, ‘significant investment’ would also be needed to make hub and spoke dispensing ‘financially viable’ for the whole sector.

Pharmacy technicians

In his speech, Mr Barclay also said that the government was ‘changing the rules’ on ‘what pharmacy technicians can do’ in order to ‘free up pharmacist time for patients – speeding up access to care and cutting waiting times’.

In April, pharmacy technicians in England were legally permitted to perform blood pressure checks as part of the hypertension case-finding service and deliver the smoking cessation service (SCS), and the service specifications were updated accordingly in June.

VAT changes announced in March also mean that services carried out by staff directly under the supervision of a pharmacist are now VAT-free, a move which pharmacy leaders said will allow better use of the skills mix within community pharmacies.