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Board behind pharmacy supervision proposals was 'uncomfortable place'

Former RPS president Martin Astbury was one of four guests at C+D's big debate in November
Former RPS president Martin Astbury was one of four guests at C+D's big debate in November

A former member of a Department of Health (DH) programme board overseeing controversial pharmacy supervision proposals has described it as an “uncomfortable place”.

In September 2017, C+D exclusively published detailed proposals to allow a “registered pharmacy professional” – such as a pharmacy technician – to supervise the sale and supply of pharmacy (P) and prescription-only medicines (POMs). These proposals had been submitted to a Department of Health (DH) programme board tasked with rebalancing medicines legislation.

A working group, established by the UK’s four chief pharmaceutical officers, also suggested amending legislation to allow a pharmacy technician to, in the pharmacist’s absence, undertake the “supervision role” of determining when medicine supplies can go ahead and “overseeing the activities of other, non-regulated, pharmacy staff”, according to confidential documents seen by C+D.

Following the publication by C+D, the DH said the programme board will hold a public consultation on pharmacy supervision "before it settles on a firm set of proposals".

In November, C+D hosted a roundtable debate, bringing together leading industry figures to discuss the proposals, including both a past and present member of the DH programme board which discussed the plans.

“Not what they wanted to hear”

During the debate, former Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) president Martin Astbury explained how prior to the working group’s formation, each of the represented bodies on the programme board had been asked to submit suggestions as to how pharmacy supervision should change.

These suggestions were “obviously not radical enough or what [the board] wanted to hear”, Mr Astbury claimed, and the working group soon “came into fruition”.

Mr Astbury previously told C+D how early objections to the supervision proposals from pharmacists had put discussions “on ice”.

During C+D’s roundtable debate, he described the “difficulties” he had as a representative of the RPS “tying in” the society to the discussions on pharmacy supervision, as “restrictions” imposed by the programme board prevented him from sharing all the relevant information.

“It is very difficult when you’re having these conversations [on the board]…and you are being restricted on who you can share [the information with],” Mr Astbury said. “I had difficulties. It is an uncomfortable place.”

Since the documents were leaked to C+D, the RPS has called for the programme board to consult more widely to ensure “all voices are heard by the government in the debate around supervision”.

In October, programme board chair Ken Jarrold told C+D that it is important the group can have "open conversations" while it debates its controversial work.

APTUK “alarm”

Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) president Tess Fenn – who joined the programme board when elected APTUK president in 2014, and is still a member today – described the “alarm” and “surprise” she and her directors felt when the documents were leaked.

“There are no firm proposals [on pharmacy supervision],” she stressed during C+D’s debate. “These are just discussions that are still being had.”

She agreed that “supervision is an emotive subject” which “needs to be discussed very rationally” and in a “safe place”.

Ms Fenn said APTUK has set up an internal taskforce to look at the ongoing issue of pharmacy supervision. However, “there is nothing to go out and consult on [yet], because these proposals have not been firmed up”.

Listen to the full debate on the controversial supervision proposals in the podcast below, and read C+D's highlights from the discussion here.

Are you concerned by the pharmacy supervision proposals?

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

Its obvious this is not going away - but if you are proposing this, then the responsibility has to shift as well. GPhC ready to go after pharmacy techs in FTP cases now??

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I agree that responsibility and accountability should go hand-in-hand as a given prerequisite. No Pharmacist should have to worry about ramifications for actions taken by another whom is supervising.

I am eager to see what the proposal becomes.

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