It started with a set of leaked documents.
In September 2017, C+D exclusively revealed that detailed proposals for pharmacy technicians to supervise prescription-only medicine supply had been drafted on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) programme board tasked with “rebalancing” medicines legislation.
The proposals were laid out behind closed doors, by a working group – co-chaired by the chief pharmaceutical officer for England Keith Ridge, and his Scottish equivalent Rose Marie Parr.
C+D’s exposé prompted wide-spread sector reaction, including from community pharmacy bodies. It galvanised the Pharmacists’ Defence Association into organising an “emergency” meeting at the Pharmacy Show, and drew hundreds of comments from readers on the C+D website and social media.
In its eventual response, the DH insisted there were “no firm proposals on changes to legislation regarding [pharmacy] supervision”, and told C+D it will hold a public consultation on pharmacy supervision ”before it settles on a firm set of proposals”.
However, it failed to confirm whether health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt knew about the pharmacy supervision proposals, even after he tried to “reassure” a pharmacist on the subject.
That’s why we should take a moment to celebrate this week's revelation that the DH has “gone back to square one” on pharmacy supervision. Not only has the programme board been forced to acknowledge that there were indeed proposals in the pipeline – something it had effectively denied six months ago – but it is now rethinking its whole approach to pharmacy supervision.
This victory is down to you, the “grassroot voices” – to use a phrase from Dorset contractor Mike Hewitson. The strength of your reaction to C+D’s coverage of the leaked proposals – which were originally, according to the documents, “accepted in principle” by the board – no doubt contributed to the DH’s back-track.
The possibility of changing legislation to allow pharmacy technicians to supervise medicines supply has polarised the sector. However the lack of transparency – and the fact that these discussions had advanced so far without wider sector consultation – stuck in community pharmacy’s craw.
So it is encouraging to hear that the board “will carefully consider…a range of views” from the sector “and its partners” going forward. But there is no indication that crucial decisions on pharmacy’s future won’t be drafted or decided in secret again, without consultation with wider stakeholders and the public.
Which is why as the DH goes back to the drawing board on pharmacy supervision, C+D will continue to press the government for a response. As ever, we’ll provide the platform for the whole sector – not just a select few voices – to join the discussion.