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Labour pledges to 'go further' with pharmacy 'prescribing service'

Community pharmacy’s prescribing role would be expanded under a Labour government, according to a policy briefing released by the opposition party.

Unveiling the party’s “mission to create an NHS fit for the future”, Labour leader Keir Starmer did not make explicit mention of the role that community pharmacy will play.


But a Labour policy briefing released yesterday (May 22) alongside the announcement described a community pharmacy service with more independent prescribing, more empowered pharmacy technicians and “greater digital interoperability” with GPs.


According to Labour’s vision, expanding the role of community pharmacy is a central tenet of its agenda to reform primary care, which it says will lead to “fewer lives lost to the biggest killers in a fairer Britain, where everyone lives well for longer”.


Read more: Labour government will ‘ensure pharmacy is supported’, party pledges


It pledged to “further expand the role of community pharmacy” to “make primary care fit for the 21st Century”.


It comes as the government this month revealed its new primary care recovery plan announcing a community pharmacy funding injection of “up to £645 million” over two years to “expand” services.

It said that the cash will fund a new Pharmacy First service for England as well as expansions to the existing pharmacy oral contraceptive and blood pressure programmes – “subject to consultation” and negotiations.


Pharmacy “prescribing service”


Describing the current government’s proposals for expanding community pharmacy as a “sticking plaster”, the briefing said that a Labour government will “go further” by “accelerating the roll-out of independent prescribing”.


It added that it would establish a “community pharmacist prescribing service” to cover “a broad range of common conditions”, although it did not specify what these would be.


Read more: Labour will hold government to account for pharmacy supervision plans


Labour would also “cut unnecessary red tape” that would allow pharmacy technicians to “step up to some roles”, the briefing said.


This, it added, would keep pharmacists working to “the top of their licence” on “prescribing and medicines management” rather than “repetitive dispensing processes”.


Read more: ‘Labour will scrap script fees so pharmacists aren’t NHS gatekeepers’


Labour’s policy would also see “greater digital interoperability” enable pharmacists to work alongside GPs to help manage hypertension and other long-term conditions, the party said.


Developing this relationship would help with “tackling the serious issue of overprescribing”, the policy briefing added.



“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”



Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said that he was “glad to see many of the proposals we have been campaigning on feature as part of Labour’s plans to expand the role of community pharmacy” and welcomes “further detail”.


Calling independent prescribing a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change”, he added that as things stand “it will take far too long to achieve our ambition of 95% of community pharmacists being trained [to become independent prescribers]”.


Read more: All the headlines from the primary care recovery plan


According to the General Pharmaceutical Council's (GPhC) latest figures, 25% of registered pharmacists have prescriber annotation as of last month.


Mr Harrison called for “ambitious commissioning and an expanded training programme” to help community pharmacy achieve its “potential to transform urgent care, public health and long-term condition management across primary care”.


He also welcomed Labour’s plans for pharmacy technicians to take on an “enhanced” role. 



“Much deeper problems”



Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), told C+D that the organisation shares “the ideals” of the announcement and was “pleased to see” Labour’s description of the government’s plan as a “sticking plaster”.


This matches the association’s own description of the “much deeper problems in community pharmacies”, she said.


She stressed that the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS), which incentivises GP practices to hire pharmacists, has resulted “in a workforce crisis that our sector has not seen before at a great cost to the taxpayer”.


Read more: ARRS recruitment must ‘immediately halt’ now target reached, warns CCA


She asked for Labour’s support to “stop the ARRS” and to “inject liquidity to our core funding”, which she said faces a £1.1 billion shortfall, so that the sector can “keep its head above the water”.


Pharmacies are “being asked to deliver more for less, including services without joined up IT systems, without timely engagement and planning with our sector, poorly costed and with too much NHS red tape”, Dr Hannbeck said.


And she called on Labour to “make a commitment to help change the current top-down management culture and blocks within the NHS leadership”.



“Slightly disappointing”



Meanwhile, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) also welcomed Labour’s “intention to further expand the role of community pharmacy”.


But PDA director Paul Day told C+D that it is “slightly disappointing to see…the role of community pharmacy described as being there to ‘support GPs’”.


“Politicians of all parties need to understand more about the value of pharmacists and their contribution when enabled to work as part of an integrated, properly resourced, multi-disciplinary team," he said.


Read more: Pharmacy First set for national launch ‘by end of 2023’ following consultation

And he added that while any pledges to cut “unnecessary red tape” to help tackle overprescribing “will always sound attractive to voters”, further details are needed on what this means “in practice”.

Mr Day said that other sectors such as policing and teaching have shown the “consequences of replacing the contribution of professionals with other valued, but ultimately less qualified, colleagues”.


Read more: New inquiry to rate government progress on pharmacy services pledges


“Future decision makers need to ensure they fully understand the professional contribution made by pharmacists and learn the lessons of those other sectors to ensure optimum care and patient safety,” he added.


He told C+D that it is “welcome to see those that the opinion polls currently say are most likely to form the next Westminster government beginning to explain their intentions, although of course we will still want to see detail of what is proposed once/if they become the government”.

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