Pharmacy technicians will be enabled to supply medicines under patient group directions (PGDs), subject to parliamentary approval, the government has announced today.

As a result, they may be able to provide Pharmacy First consultations or administer vaccinations, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

This follows a public consultation, which the government said ‘found widespread support for giving new powers to these staff to cut bureaucracy and support more efficient patient care.’

The move was supported by 84% of those who responded to the consultation, but has been opposed by some within the sector including the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA).

The government said it hopes that the move will free up pharmacists’ time, ‘allowing them to deliver more patient-facing clinical services and improving access to primary care services for patients.’

But some within the sector have suggested that its impact will be limited due to funding constraints faced by community pharmacy.

Pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom said that she wanted staff to be ‘recognised for the vital work that they do, working to their full scope of practice and delivering for everyone who walks through their doors’.

Nicola Stockmann, President of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), described the move as ‘a landmark moment for the expansion of access for patients to pharmacy services in a pressured healthcare landscape without compromising patient care’.

The Primary Care Pharmacy Association said on X it 'warmly welcomed' the development, and the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) said would bring pharmacy technicians in line with other health professionals with similar levels of qualification, and create 'much needed capacity' in the sector.

And Gordon Hockey, director of legal at Community Pharmacy England, said it was 'pleasing' to see the 'capacity-releasing' measure, which was first suggested at the very start of the five-year contractual framework, 'finally come to fruition'.

'As the clinical skills of community pharmacists are put to greater use through services such as Pharmacy First, it is important to ensure that pharmacies can make best use of skill mix across the whole team,' he told The Pharmacist.

Professor Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said that enabling pharmacy technicians to work under PGDs would ‘increase capacity for pharmacy teams and further support consistency of services being offered within pharmacy.’

‘This will support transformational change within pharmacy teams and enable the further evolution of the pharmacist’s role into more complex clinical care,’ she added.

But she said that ‘in keeping with wider discussions across pharmacy’, it was ‘essential’ that ‘the accountability and professional responsibility of pharmacy technicians is clearly understood in situations where PGDs are being used’.

PDA: 'Safety concerns'

Her comments follow concerns raised by Mark Koziol, PDA chair, who wrote to the pharmacy minister earlier this week with ‘important safety concerns’ pharmacy technicians taking on more clinical pharmacy work.

He suggested that there were ‘cumulative risks to patient safety’ that were ‘starting to build over time’ because of ‘the undeniable move towards allowing pharmacy staff to undertake activities which are inappropriate to their educational standard’.

While the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) requires all new pharmacy technicians to be trained to NVQ level 3, Mr Koziol suggested that working under a PGD was more similar to working at NVQ level 5, 6 or 7 standard.

And he said that less than half of the current pharmacy technician register had completed the NVQ level 3 training, with the remainder being added to the register under a ‘grandparent’ clause as they were already working as pharmacy technicians when the register was created in 2011.

But speaking to a parliamentary inquiry yesterday, Dame Andrea denied any suggestion of ‘blurring the lines’ between the roles of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

In a statement released today, Mark Koziol said that the PDA was 'extremely disappointed' that the government had decided to roll out the changes despite the concerns raised by the PDA, other organisations, and in parliament.

'Patients coming into a pharmacy should have no less protection than other healthcare sectors where the pre-conditions for involvement of healthcare staff in PGDs are far higher than what is currently being proposed for pharmacy. We will continue to press the government and the GPhC for a safer approach and much more appropriate training and qualifications for the delivery of PGDs,' he added.

CPhO: 'Not day one roles'

Responding to concerns raised in a parliamentary inquiry this week, chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) for England David Webb said that working under a PGD would be a role that a pharmacy technician could take on over time as their competence develops.

‘These are not about day one roles, these are about roles that one develops into through a course of professional development, that you can then undertake at some point in the future when you have the necessary knowledge, skills and qualifications to do that,’ he said.

AIMp: Contractors 'unable to invest in training'

But Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), suggested that community pharmacies were unable to invest in professional development for their staff, including pharmacy technicians, due to funding constraints.

In a statement to The Pharmacist today, she said that while pharmacy technicians 'do a great a job in community pharmacy', contractors were 'unable to invest in training workforce, including technicians because they simply do not have the funds.'

'If the government truly cares about patient safety and wants to improve accessibility to care, then they should invest in our sector to stop our local pharmacies from perishing and to allow us to employ more pharmacists to deliver more accessible clinical services to our communities,' she added.

NPA: Changes will have 'limited impact' on access to care

Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told The Pharmacist: 'Allowing registered pharmacy technicians to administer vaccinations and supply some prescription medicines under strict protocols is a useful, modernising step – but it will have a limited impact in terms of improving access to care, because it doesn’t address the fundamental resource constraints brought about by funding cuts.'

'A new deal that restores historic levels of funding and allows pharmacies to invest in staff capacity and services would make the game-changing difference to access,' he said.