The cross-sector pharmacy supervision group has agreed on the importance of having a pharmacist physically present in a community pharmacy, however it was unable to reach a consensus about whether this should be embedded in primary legislation or specified elsewhere.

It published a full report outlining its process and conclusions today, including suggesting that ‘supervision’ should not be interpreted to mean supervising every individual transaction, and proposals to allow delegation of tasks and responsibility and out-of-hours preparation and assembly of medicines.

The group included representatives from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), Association of Pharmacy Technicians (APTUK), Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), Pharmacy Forum Northern Ireland (PFNI) and The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPS).

Its recommendations will be used to inform proposals developed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which will then be subject to a full consultation.

The debate around ‘physical presence’

As part of its discussions, the group held a two-hour virtual workshop on 15 May 2023 to discuss the issue around the physical presence of a pharmacist, and followed this with further discussion later in May and July.

The group said that throughout the process, discussions between the organisations remained positive, collaborative, and ‘focussed on finding a consensus way forward’.

The final report outlines the agreement of the sector that the physical presence of a pharmacist was ‘an important and defining element of community pharmacy to ensure the safe and effective operation of the pharmacy’.

And it summarises differing views about where this should be specified.

The NPA, PDA, PFNI and RPS felt that the need for a pharmacist to be physically present should be encoded in the Medicines Act 1968.

They said that this would ‘give confidence to pharmacists and the public in the future and inform the nature and style of commissioning going forward’.

Embedding this requirement in primary legislation would also guide the development of any future innovation and technological advances such as artificial intelligence, to support rather than replace pharmacists in their face-to-face dealings with the public, they added.

But the AIMp, APTUK and CCA felt that the requirement for a pharmacist to be physically present should instead be included in secondary legislation, regulatory rules and standards, or professional standards and guidance.

This was because the physical presence of the pharmacist is already required under the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, and because they were concerned that an additional amendment to legislation ‘could restrict flexibility in the future’, as primary legislation is more difficult to change.

Instead, they proposed an ‘iterative approach’ that would ‘create more opportunities for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacies in the future and would bring pharmacists in line with other professionals’.

The supervision group’s report sets out how and why the different organisation’s views differed.

‘We hope that this document provides further detail of our discussions to inform individual responses to the respective consultations,’ the report said.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the AIMp, commented: ‘For months we have been debating the supervision topic and whilst we have reached consensus on many areas covered by this topic, the reality is that there remain areas where organisations continue to differ in opinion.’

And Nick Kaye, chair of the NPA, said: ‘There is consensus that the physical presence of a pharmacist in the pharmacy is a defining characteristic of community pharmacy – a principle which has been an anchor point for the NPA throughout these talks.

‘We also all agree that changes to current arrangements are necessary to improve access and help pharmacists have the capacity to deliver more face-to-face clinical services. This report means that when the government proceeds to a full consultation on this matter it will have a clear sense of where the consensus sits within the sector.’

Mark Koziol, chair of the PDA, said: ‘We have always believed that the physical presence of a pharmacist in a community pharmacy is fundamental to this vision.

‘The report published today clearly puts forward a view that the physical presence of a pharmacist in a community pharmacy is essential in providing safe and effective patient care, and while there were differing views on the need for this to be specified in primary legislation, the general point about physical presence was agreed by all.’

Read the full 'Supervision in Community Pharmacy: Recommendations from the Supervision Practice Group' report here, and on each organisation's website.