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Independent prescribing one of new England pharmacy chief’s main priorities

In his first public address to the pharmacy sector since being appointed to the role, England’s new chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) David Webb took the opportunity to present what he sees as the future of the pharmacy sector. 

Mr Webb set out his vision for pharmacy in England in his keynote address at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress (CPC) last week (May 13).

He opened his speech by promising to be the CPhO “for all members” of the pharmacist and pharmacy technician professions. He pledged to be “approachable, inclusive, and to appreciate your contributions as we move forward to working together to improve patient care”.


Read more: NHSE&I appoints David Webb as the new chief pharmaceutical officer


In a slide presented during his session, he summarised his priorities in four key points:

  • Making independent prescribing part of pharmacy practice by 2026
  • Assuring post-registration practice
  • Developing the role of pharmacy technicians
  • Strengthening pharmacy professional leadership


“I’m here to talk about the future direction of our profession and to share my priorities as head of those pharmacy professionals.”


Independent prescribing


Mr Webb heralded plans to make independent prescribing a key part of pharmacy practice by 2026 as “the most fundamental change for our profession in decades”.

Over the next four years, the sector is going to be impacted by changes including those affecting clinical practice, he said. He encouraged the audience to “be open… to be able to harness the possibilities as they arise”.


Read more: GPhC scraps 2-year experience rule for independent prescribing training


Mr Webb’s team at NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) is working on “developing our professional practice to incorporate” the introduction of independent prescribing for all, which includes understanding how this can be used at integrated care system (ICS) level to “help them deliver their objectives”.

“I can envisage a time when it will be common for pharmacists to manage many long-term conditions within ICS’s pathways of care. Nationally, we can set an ambition for all that to happen, but it needs to be system-led and locally delivered,” Mr Webb added.


Post-registration practice


NHSE&I is also “actively working on developing opportunities to use prescribing in community pharmacies”, Mr Webb said.

He referred to the recent news that Health Education England is offering 3,000 funded independent prescribing training places this year.

These, Mr Webb said, “will provide us with a valuable experience on how best to expand independent prescribing on existing pharmacists in community pharmacy”.


Read more: England CPhO: NHS ‘doing all we can’ to address pharmacy workforce pressures


The commissioning body is working with employers “to deliver fulfilling roles across all sectors for new and existing registrants”, Mr Webb said.

In a slide presented during his address, Mr Webb revealed that his team is “currently preparing to include independent prescribing in the contraception pilots”.

But he acknowledged the workforce pressures experienced in settings right across the sector.

“At a national level, NHSE&I is working with ICSs, employers and HEE on workforce planning for the whole pharmacy workforce and the wider NHS workforces and applying this across each of the 42 ICSs in England,” he reassured delegates.


Pharmacy technicians


For years, the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) has repeatedly made demands to let pharmacy technicians operate under patient group directions (PGDs).

Following the news last year that the Department of Health and Social Care is now “looking at” adding pharmacy technicians to the list of healthcare professionals able to administer COVID-19 vaccinations under a PGD, Mr Webb said that it is “crucial” to develop pharmacy technicians’ role, “including the ability to operate under PGDs”.

“This would enable pharmacists to move to an independent prescribing role and help us meet some workforce challenges,” Mr Webb added.


Read more: Pharmacy technicians in NI could become fully regulated from 2025


“We’re starting to see the enabling legislation come through, for instance extending the dispensing errors defence to hospital pharmacists and the regulation to allow the GPhC to set up the responsibilities of superintendent and responsible pharmacists,” Mr Webb said.

In a slide presented to delegates, Mr Webb revealed that NHSE&I is working with partners to understand how to realise “the potential” of these legislative changes.


Read more: GPhC should decide when responsible pharmacists can oversee multiple sites, DH concludes


This includes examining how to expand the role of pharmacy technicians to support services including the national hypertension, emergency hormonal contraception, and new medicine services.

Mr Webb also revealed that 1,220 pharmacy technicians are now working in a primary care network role.


Strengthening professional leadership


“Strong professional leadership to guide, support an enable transformation change” is needed to drive through these changes in pharmacy, Mr Webb stressed.

The four UK CPhOs are establishing a “commission” to “produce a briefing for the purpose and functions for professional leadership in pharmacy for the future”, he announced.

This will ensure “we have the right support in place for the profession, for patients, [and] for the NHS to work with the regulator and government”.

“Not least, we will need this leadership to make sure the move to independent prescribing is safe and effective and that everything that will make it so is in place,” Mr Webb added.


Read more: Boots backs pharmacists’ presence on shortage occupation list


Mr Webb has stepped into his new role at a time where the pharmacy sector finds itself at the centre of what could be referred to as a clinical practice revolution.

Tasked with spearheading this change, his actions will contribute to reshaping pharmacy practice as we know it today. 

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