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'High' patient confidence in independent prescribers, study shows

Patients are confident in pharmacists prescribing medication independently of a doctor or nurse – particularly with medicines they have been prescribed before or are currently taking, a study by market researchers has found.

Market research firm Ipsos polled 2,067 patients aged over 16 across England between July 21 and 27 last year – including 503 respondents who had visited a community pharmacy in the previous year for advice on medicines, health problems and services, and 949 who were current, occasional or former smokers.

Ipsos said that the study, commissioned by NHS England, aimed to gauge “public attitudes towards community pharmacy in England” and the services offered.

The survey found that patients had “high levels of confidence in a pharmacist prescribing medication independently of a doctor or nurse”, NHSE said last week (December 30).

Catch up with C+D's seventh Big Debate, which asked: “Is getting an independent prescribing qualification worth it?”

This was particularly high when patients had been prescribed this medication before (77%) or if they were currently prescribed it (70%).

However, patients' confidence in pharmacist independent prescribers dropped to 56% in the case of pharmacists prescribing a medication they had not taken before.

Last year, the General Pharmaceutical Council moved to scrap a rule that meant pharmacists needed two years of experience post-registration in order to enrol on an independent prescribing course.

And last May, England's chief pharmaceutical officer David Webb cited making independent prescribing part of pharmacy practice by 2026.


Patients positively rate advice from pharmacies


The survey found that the “vast majority” (91%) of patients surveyed who had visited a pharmacy in the past year said “they received good advice”.

Meanwhile, just 3% of patients reported receiving “poor” advice, Ipsos added.

It concluded: “Those who have used a pharmacy in the last year for advice about medicines, a health problem or injury or what health service they should use are overwhelmingly positive about the quality of the advice that they received.

“Pharmacy users in England are currently satisfied with pharmacy services and would be comfortable with them providing certain new services.”


Confidence in pharmacy services


The study also found:

  • The public identified pharmacies as “the organisations they would be most likely to go to if they needed information and advice on medicines (68%) or information and advice on a minor condition such as a sore throat or earache (54%)”
  • Nine in ten (90%) said they would consult a pharmacist for “a minor illness such as an earache, having spoken to the GP receptionist, instead of organising an appointment with their GP”
  • The same proportion (90%) said they would be happy for a nurse or GP to refer them to a community pharmacy for a same-day appointment to discuss minor illness after an online consultation
  • But fewer (75%) said they would feel comfortable with pharmacy weight loss support
  • The majority of respondents who were or had been smokers (85%) said they would “feel comfortable” being referred to a community pharmacy for smoking cessation support
  • Small chain or independent pharmacies were the most commonly contacted or visited by the public (41%), followed by large or medium sized pharmacy chains (35%)

Ipsos said there is “public appetite for using community pharmacies for some functions they would currently be seen as the domain of GP practices”, such as flu vaccinations and blood pressure checks, representing “a clear opportunity for expanding the services pharmacies offer”.

Chief executive of the Company Chemists Association (CCA) Malcolm Harrison welcomed the survey’s findings, saying they confirmed “that patients value the quality of service and advice community pharmacies routinely provide”.

“It is evident that patients are happy to use their local pharmacy to access the care and support they need in the community,” he said.

However, pharmacies need “urgent support” to be able to meet this demand, Mr Harrison added.

Read more: Welsh pharmacies deliver more than 150,000 flu vaccines in three months

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) chair Thorrun Govind said: “Community pharmacists are working exceptionally hard to make sure that the public gets the right advice at the right time.

“This new data shows the public appreciate both the accessibility and quality of advice they receive from community pharmacists.”

She added: “I am delighted that the RPS is working with the NHS to deliver professional development for community pharmacists to further enhance their clinical consultation skills.”

Read more: Pharmacy leaders issue urgent funding plea as pharmacies 'struggling to survive'

Pharmacy representatives penned a joint letter to health secretary Steve Barclay last month, warning that the sector will face permanent pharmacy closures and medicine supply issues if it does not receive “urgent investment”.

C+D reported in September last year two thirds of people responding to a survey commissioned by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) believed it was “unfair” that pharmacies in England have not seen their funding increase for eight years.

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