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UPDATED: DH launches long-awaited pharmacy supervision consultation

The government has launched a consultation proposing that pharmacy technicians could "run a dispensary" without "reference to a pharmacist" in certain situations.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) today (December 7) announced plans to allow a pharmacist to "authorise pharmacy technicians to run a dispensary with reference to a pharmacist only where necessary".

The 12-week consultation, which launched today and applies to the UK, proposed that: 

  • Pharmacists would be able to authorise registered pharmacy technicians to perform tasks that would otherwise need to be performed by or under the supervision of pharmacists
  • Registered pharmacy technicians would be able to take primary responsibility for the preparation and assembly of medicinal products in highly specialised sterile manufacturing units in hospitals
  • Checked and bagged prescribed medicines would be allowed to be handed out in a retail pharmacy in the absence of a pharmacist – where authorised by a pharmacist - so that patients would be able to pick up their prescription when the pharmacist is at lunch or otherwise unavailable

The long-awaited consultation comes after calls from sectors leaders to make supervision law “less inflexible” and allow pharmacy technicians to safely hand out the “majority of medicines”.


“A significant shift”


The DH said the consultation proposals, which it said are “part of its primary care recovery plan”, would “maximise the contribution of pharmacy professionals” and make pharmacy services “fit for the future”.

It highlighted that “currently, the preparation, assembly, dispensing, sale and supply of pharmacy and prescription only medicines” (POMs) must be carried out “by or under the supervision of a pharmacist”.

Read more: Supervision of individual transactions ‘no longer’ needed, cross-sector group finds

However, it said that “as registered and regulated health professionals”, pharmacy technicians “are qualified to work without direct supervision”.

The DH added that the plans “would represent a significant shift” in dispensing and that the consultation empowers “over 67,000 pharmacists” in the UK “to have greater say in how staff are deployed and how medicines are dispensed”.

And it said that the proposals are “informed” by “extensive engagement with the sector and profession” and “have the support of the four Chief Pharmaceutical Officers (CPhOs) of the UK”.


“Not a move towards” remote supervision


The DH stressed that the consultation is “not a move towards allowing pharmacists to remotely supervise a community pharmacy”.

The consultation document said that the “physical presence of the responsible pharmacist…is enshrined in primary legislation that is not being changed”.

Read more: The (supervision) elephant is still in the room

Any new legislation “will be underpinned by regulatory rules” and guidance to ensure it is implemented “safely”, it said.

“This will also improve career progression and job satisfaction for the whole team”, the document added.


“Making the most” of staff


Commenting on the consultation, pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom said it was “about making the most of the talents of our excellent and highly trained pharmacy staff”.

She added that the changes would give “pharmacy technicians the chance to use their skills in a safe way and take on more responsibility for dispensing”.

Read more: Make supervision law ‘less inflexible’, says Wales’s chief pharmacist

Ms Leadsom stressed that this would allow pharmacists to have “more time to carry out the clinical assessments they are trained to do”.

She said that the changes would “benefit them and their patients and improve service delivery more generally”. 

Read more: Pharmacy supervision: The DH seems committed to changing the law; we must set the terms

In a joint statement released alongside the consultation, the four CPhOs for the UK said that the proposals “will improve future patient care across the four UK nations”.

They added that they would make “appropriate, safe and productive use of pharmacy technicians’ knowledge and skills” while also “enabling pharmacists to deliver a wider range of clinical services”.


“Daft bureaucracy”


The announcement comes after cross-sector group the Supervision Practice Group this summer developed legislative recommendations that tighten up the concept of supervision in community pharmacy.

The consultation document admitted that “there is some disagreement as to what the law currently requires in terms of ‘supervision’”.

Read more: The ‘poisoned chalice’ of supervision: where are we today?

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting last year railed against the “daft bureaucracy” of supervision rules.

He criticised the fact that a pharmacist must be on site to supervise every prescription that is handed over to patients, even if the medicines in question have already been checked and labelled by a registered pharmacist.


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