Only half of the public have confidence in a pharmacist prescribing them a new medication, a recent IPSOS survey has found.

The survey found that 77% of patients have confidence in a pharmacist prescribing medications independently of a doctor or nurse when prescribing medicines that a person has had before, and 70% would be confident in a pharmacist prescribing medication that they are currently prescribed.

Although public confidence in pharmacists was generally high, just 56% of patients would be confident for a pharmacist to prescribe them a medication that they have not taken before.

With all new pharmacists set to qualify as independent prescribers from 2026, Graham Stretch, chief pharmacist and partner at Argyle Health Group in London, told The Pharmacist that pharmacists working in general practice can help to build confidence in pharmacist prescribing with the general public, and with other healthcare professionals.

Commenting on the survey findings, Mr Stretch said that patients were ‘rightly cautious’ and that it would take time for pharmacists to win their trust, and that this would come as pharmacist prescribing became more commonplace.

He said: ‘I’m not surprised that the public are cautious, that seems entirely appropriate, and it will be for us as a profession to win that trust by doing exactly that: practicing evidence-based medicine, by making sure that we properly refer patients, that we safely net them appropriately and ensure that we've got good communication with other providers of healthcare locally.’

For instance, he said that the public or other healthcare providers might be concerned about community pharmacists working in isolation, prescribing outside their sphere of confidence or operating without proper follow up and care.

‘I think we have to trust our colleagues,’ he said. ‘First we have to say that’s not going to happen, people will use their professional judgement in the appropriate way. If we don’t then we do need of course to back that up with proper regulation.’

Mr Stretch added that pharmacists working within general practice could do much to build confidence with other healthcare professionals.

‘I think largely, the explosion in pharmacists working in practices will really assist the community pharmacy here because most right-thinking medics and nurses now have seen demonstrated the value of pharmaceutical expertise within their own PNCs and within their own practices. And the natural extension of that is that community pharmacy start to get involved,’ he said.

He also said that the context of prescribing – for instance, changing a medication due to side effects or initiating a medication following a blood pressure check – would increase patient trust, adding that his own GP colleagues refer patients to him as the most relevant expert for medications issues.

Mr Stretch added that contractual changes could also help to build trust in pharmacist prescribing by removing the financial reliance of community pharmacy on dispensing and instead incentivising clinical care – for example, remunerating pharmacists for a patient consultation rather than for issuing a prescription.

‘I hope that those are that kind of directions of conversation so that we appropriately deploy a huge pool of resource that is literally untapped within community pharmacy,’ he said. ‘There’s more work out there than we can possibly do, and the more people available for patients to go to for help and for care the better. It’s been too long wasted.’

Lead prescribing pharmacist and GP partner Shilpa Patel at Well BN in Hove also told The Pharmacist that ‘perhaps the public’s perception of diagnosis and prescription is playing a part’ in public trust in pharmacists prescribing new medicines.

‘Although we do not claim to be experts in diagnosis, we are most definitely medicine experts. Why is the confidence not there?,’ she wrote in a post on LinkedIn.

She added: ‘We need to educate the public!’

Advanced pharmacist practitioner at The Roxton Practice in Immingham, Tapiwa Vernon Mukori, said that confidence in pharmacist prescribing among the general public and other healthcare providers had come a long way, although it still varied practice to practice.

He said that pharmacists could help to build confidence in conversations with patients, for instance addressing their concerns and taking the time to explain what they were doing and why.

‘It's not the traditional kind of role of a pharmacist to diagnose and treat,’ he told The Pharmacist. ‘But if you’ve involved in the patient in that journey, that generally gives them the confidence for your intervention to prescribe.’

The England chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), Thorrun Govind, said that the IPSOS figures were ‘encouraging’, and said that ‘as more pharmacists take on a prescribing role and patients get used to pharmacists prescribing for them, we would expect this confidence to grow.’

She added that the role of the pharmacist independent prescriber had become ‘increasingly important’ in the delivery of high-quality clinical care, with high demand for healthcare and more specialised medication regimes.’

‘This must be supported by investment in pharmacy education and training, as well as commissioning of services to use pharmacists’ skills,’ she commented.