NHS England (NHSE) has launched its independent prescribing pathfinder programme to explore how independent prescribing could be used in community pharmacy.

The programme could include up to 210 community pharmacies across each of the 42 Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) in England.

Each ICB will be able to determine the scope of their sites, which will be used to test how community pharmacy independent prescribing could be used to deliver commissioned services.

In an information page on its website, NHSE said that the independent prescribing pathfinder programme ‘presents a unique opportunity for community pharmacy to redesign current pathways and play an increasing role in delivering clinical services in primary care’.

And it added that ICBs will ‘be urged to fully utilise the skills and capabilities of community pharmacists to build on clinical services already commissioned as advanced pharmaceutical services or add into locally commissioned services.’

And ICBs will work with local community pharmacies and other local NHS bodies to designate the pathfinder sites.

NHSE has written to ICBs setting out the next steps for the programme.

James Davies, director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England, told The Pharmacist that the timelines set out for the project were ‘tight’, ‘placing a huge ask on pharmacy teams and ICBs to get things working quickly’.

But he added that the RPS was working with stakeholders to help support the successful implementation of the pathfinder sites.

‘The success of this programme of work will help to define the future of community pharmacy practice for years to come,’ he said.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said that it was good to see the programme being launched.

‘It is vital that pathfinder programme integrates community pharmacy as the centre piece of service delivery. Community pharmacy sector is ideally situated for improved patient outcomes and wellbeing. Its accessibility and convenience cannot be replicated,’ she told The Pharmacist.

Gareth Jones, director of external and corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), described the launch of the pathfinder project as ‘a very significant moment for the future development of community pharmacy-based NHS services’.

He added: ‘We hope everyone in and around the sector gets behind this important initiative, as we at the NPA certainly will.’

Director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), Alastair Buxton, said that the launch of the independent prescribing pathfinder sites was ‘a really positive development, particularly with each ICB now being allowed to participate in the programme.’

He added: ‘The programme will allow the NHS and community pharmacy to work through the practical and professional issues which need to be addressed before independent prescribing can be embedded in day-to-day practice and within the NHS contractual framework.’

And he noted that independent prescribing will be ‘at the heart’ of many of the future services community pharmacists will provide.

‘We are really excited about how independent prescribing will be used to support the further development of community pharmacy services, ensuring the clinical skills of community pharmacists can be maximised, to the benefit of their patients and the NHS,’ Mr Buxton added in a statement issued by CPE.

The success of the pathfinder programme will be evaluated by an independent organisation, and tender applications have opened this month for organisations interested in conducting the evaluation.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England David Webb has previously described the introduction of independent prescribing on a widespread scale – when all newly qualified pharmacists will graduate with a prescribing qualification from 2026 – as ‘transformational for all sectors of pharmacy’, with the potential to improve medicines use and increase opportunities for deprescribing.

And he has said that the independent prescribing pathfinder pilot sites would help ‘test different models and allow for local variation in clinical design and delivery, responding to local needs and the availability of pharmacist prescribers’.

The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has previously called for a commitment from the government to commission more prescribing services through community pharmacy as an incentive for pharmacy businesses to train their workforce as prescribers.