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'DH's back-track on pharmacy supervision is a victory for the sector'

"Let's take a moment to celebrate that pharmacy voices have prompted a government rethink"

The government’s decision to rethink its plans to allow pharmacy technicians to supervise medicines supply is down to you, says C+D news editor Grace Lewis

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.

Next steps…

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.

Where does the sector stand on technicians supervising pharmacies?

In November, C+D gathered leading industry figures for a heated discussion on the pharmacy supervision proposals. You can listen to the full debate in the podcast below, or click here to find out C+D's highlights from the event.

Grace Lewis is news editor of C+D. Email her at [email protected] or contact her on Twitter at @CandDGrace.


Mohammed Patel, Community pharmacist

This is a joke surely? It's like celebrating shooting an enemy soldier whilst an atomic bomb is falling. It means nothing, we are all doomed anyway.

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Pharmacists will have to keep on their toes for when the DoH comes up with more proposals to effectively decimate the role of a pharmacist. If we had more independent pharmacies or smaller chains of pharmacies run by pharmacists we would have more veto power when the DoH comes up with nonsensical ideas that they are ignorant enough to try and implement. 

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

It's a victory for patients.  We've had over 12 years for this new "clinical" revolution, with services being our shiny new raison d'être, to come to the fore and guess what?  It hasn't.  90% of our income comes from dispeisng prescriptions.  "Freeing up the pharmacist" will be done, not to improve patient care but to clog up the dole queue.  Remove the legal requirement to have a pharmacist supervising supply of medicines and you will end up removing the pharmacist from a pharmacy, full stop.  I'd love it to not be the case but this is the situation we find ourselves in. 

We've seen it with brutal funding cuts, we've seen it with shockingly inaccurate concession prices and this would have been the final nail in community pharmacy's coffin.  The CPhO simply does not value the service that community pharmacies give to their patients.  They believe everything can be done at a lower cost, either by a dispensing warehouse in Yorkshire within one to three working days or by someone with two years of part time distance learning. 

Before the fingers start a-typing, please hear me out...  This is not to detract from the skills of countless technicians across the land.  They are truly fantastic at their job and we couldn't do an awful lot of what we do, to the level we do it to, without them; however, it is simply not fair to expect them to be able to have the same knowledge and skill of someone who has 5 years of full time training to Masters level. 

I'm all in favour of devolving responsibility to them but this is a Grand Canyon of a leap ahead of that.  There is a big difference between running a dispensary effectively and taking responsibility for the supervision of medicines.  I dare say that there are many technicians that would manage the running of a pharmacy better than a fair few pharmacists, myself included.

Right, who wants to build a snowman?

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

I think 'victory' maybe a bit strong a description, maybe DoH sees it more as the sector has won a battle, but certainly not the war. Don't be surprised if the reg tech PoM supply and P sales is revisited again in the not too distant future. :-)

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Yeah, whichever side of the fence one sits on, this will come back in a different form. The DoH isn't one to cut their losses.

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