The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has predicted that proposed legislative changes to supervision could free up time for between 29% and 40% of pharmacists.

And it could save the community pharmacy sector anywhere between £15m and £150m, documents released last week suggested.

In an impact assessment, the DHSC said that cost and time savings would be generated by allowing pharmacists to delegate dispensing work to pharmacy technicians, freeing up pharmacists to deliver clinical services.

While under the new proposals a pharmacist would still need to undertake a clinical check for the prescription, four minutes per prescription could be saved by allowing a pharmacy technician to pick, label, accuracy check and hand the medicine to the patient, according to the DHSC’s approximations.

And differing estimates of the ratio of pharmacists to pharmacy technicians suggest that anywhere between 29% and 40% of pharmacists could have some of their time replaced by pharmacy technician time.

This is based on figures from the Health Education England (HEE) workforce survey 2022 that found that there were 5,252 pharmacy technicians (FTE) compared to17,843 pharmacists in England; as well as registration figures from 30th September 2023, there were 64,267 registered pharmacists and 25,696 registered pharmacy technicians in England, Scotland and Wales.

This could save anywhere between £30m-£140m each year, as well as encouraging recruitment of pharmacy technicians with more interesting career prospects, the DHSC predicted.

But assuming that half of pharmacies are already practicing under an interpretation of supervision aligned with the legislative changes proposed, the savings generated by the change would drop to anywhere between £15m-£75m.

‘Removing ambiguity in legislation could also serve to protect pharmacists who may already be practising in a way we consider aligned with our aspirations but could fall foul of the interpretation in case law,’ the impact assessment added.

Using less costly staff in the dispensing process is intended to free up pharmacist time to deliver clinical services. But these benefits are difficult to quantify and ‘rely on the relative gains of what the pharmacist will be doing against what the pharmacy technician will no longer be doing’, the DHSC said.

In addition, it suggested that the changes would generate extra work for pharmacy technicians, who would likely ‘continue to do the same technical work they normally do around the extra supervision activity’.

This may have an impact on increased wages and ‘bargaining power’ for pharmacy technicians, the impact assessment suggested.

The DHSC also highlighted that community pharmacy’s ‘flat cash funding deal will naturally constrain the amount of additional income that pharmacies can make from NHS services, at least in the short term’.

The DHSC’s impact assessment on proposed supervision changes also said that the wording of the consultation was intended to be ‘enabling’ and many of the details of the changes were to be left up to the profession.