Plans for the community pharmacies taking part in the Independent Prescribing (IP) Pathfinder Programme are expected to be finalised by November 2023, NHS England has confirmed.
The programme, first revealed by The Pharmaceutical Journal in August 2022, was developed to explore how community pharmacists in England can deliver independent prescribing to support primary care clinical services.
In a webinar, hosted by NHS England on 14 September 2023, Ghulam Haydar, senior policy lead for pharmacy integration at NHS England, said that early adopters of the IP pathfinder sites would begin in September and October 2023, with “further mobilisation of the sites” in November 2023.
But a spokesperson for NHS England told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 4 October 2023 that integrated care boards (ICBs) were still working towards establishing pathfinder sites and governance arrangements, adding that they were expected to finalise their plans by the end of November 2023.
NHS England declined to confirm whether any pathfinder sites had started prescribing yet.
Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, said in September 2022 that independent prescribing services would be piloted in community pharmacies from January 2023.
A response from NHS England to a freedom of information request, received on 11 January 2023, revealed the original start date had been extended and the expressions of interest process was “due to be launched in January 2023 and completed by March 2023”.
All 42 ICBs in England submitted expressions of interest to be part of the programme and outlined the prescribing service model that they would like to provide locally.
ICBs have now been asked to draw up commissioning agreements for an IP local enhanced service in community pharmacies.
The programme has faced criticism from community pharmacy leaders, who say the nationally-funded programme does not allow for local negotiation on funding.
In a letter to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Raj Matharu, chair of Community Pharmacy London and chief officer of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said: “While labelled as a locally enhanced service, the community pharmacy IP pathfinder service is, in reality, nationally specified.”
Concerns have also been raised about the proposed funding of around £49 per hour for services, which Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association, called “unviable”.
In a letter to Anne Joshua, head of pharmacy integration at NHS England, dated 12 September 2023 and seen by The Pharmaceutical Journal, Community Pharmacy London said it was “unable to endorse the current proposal for the roll-out due to our concerns regarding the safety of the service, funding and operational model”.
The letter continued: “We share the goal of expanding community pharmacy-based services. It is crucial that such services deliver a quality service to patients and provide value to the NHS and community pharmacy.
“But after thorough consideration within Community Pharmacy London, we believe that the CP [community pharmacy] IP Pathfinder service, as it currently stands, fails to deliver on these goals.”
Hitesh Patel, chief executive of Community Pharmacy London, said that NHS England “had not changed its stance” as a result of the letter.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “A number of prescribing models and pathways were proposed by ICBs and we have undertaken a moderation process working with regional colleagues and through the national Independent Prescribing Oversight Group.”