Community pharmacy is an essential part of the NHS and lies at the heart of communities: where we live, work and travel.
We are all aware of the increasing pressure on the NHS, and it is right that the government looks at how we best integrate the skills of pharmacy teams, so that healthcare is provided in the most efficient and effective way possible. This is evident from the recommissioning of flu vaccinations from community pharmacy, with over half a million provided in the first five weeks of this campaign.
To support this wider ambition, I was appointed to chair the independent rebalancing medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation programme board. The board’s task is to advise the government and devolved administrations on how best to move from pharmacy practice matters set out in legislation, to an approach based on professional standards, in line with other healthcare professionals.
Work has already moved apace on numerous issues of importance to pharmacy. Before Christmas we will see legislation laid before parliament to provide a new defence for inadvertent dispensing errors in community pharmacy, facilitating greater learning from such errors. A consultation on similar provisions for hospital settings will follow in the new year.
We have also worked to ensure there is clarity on the professional roles of superintendent and responsible pharmacists. This work programme is set out clearly in our published terms of reference.
The board has also been discussing the role of pharmacy professionals, including registered pharmacy technicians. This is absolutely crucial to making the most effective use of the whole pharmacy team and their diverse range of skills, as it is to no one’s benefit if these skills are underdeveloped or underused.
In developing our proposals for ministers, we are committed to ensuring appropriate quality assurance systems are in place to support any changes to legislation and maintain patient confidence and safety.
I’ve been frustrated and disappointed that board discussions have been leaked. The publication of conversations from 14 months ago – when the board is still debating the issue today – is causing unnecessary, if understandable, worry. It’s really important that we are able to have open conversations at the board about the challenges and opportunities pharmacy faces.
I have always, on this board, and in my previous role as chair of the pharmacy regulation and leadership oversight group, done my very best to take people with me, to allow every opportunity for discussion and to respect the views of all those I work with. That is how I continue to work.
So it will be only when the board has decided on draft proposals that will we share them more widely with the partners forum, among whose members are the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA). The PDA has not been excluded from discussions and will have their say, alongside other members of the partners' forum.
The PDA is fully aware of the pathway along which these discussions progress and it is disappointing that they have chosen to mislead their members. It will only be once we have taken on board the views of the partners' forum that the board will firm up its proposals and make recommendations to ministers and the devolved administrations. That has always been, and remains, the way we intend to proceed.
I know how important it is to listen, which is why the board is respectfully and carefully considering all views put before us. We are dedicated to seeing community pharmacies flourish and continue to make a vital contribution to the provision of safe and high-quality healthcare. I am determined that pharmacy will continue to be a trusted partner in delivering a world class National Health Service, and I look forward to working with you to make this a reality.
Ken Jarrold is chair of the Department of Health's rebalancing medicines legislation and pharmacy regulation programme board.