The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS’s) English Pharmacy Board (EPB) held its meeting at Newcastle University on 20 September 2023.
Opening the board meeting, Erutase Oputu, chair of the EPB, welcomed board members, guests and observers.
New staff members Clare Thomson, chief pharmaceutical officer’s clinical Fellow at the RPS for 2023/2024, and Tammy Lovell, RPS correspondent at The Pharmaceutical Journal, were introduced.
Apologies were received for Claire Anderson, president of the RPS, and English Pharmacy Board members Ciara Duffy, Thorrun Govind and Adebayo Adegbite.
UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership
James Davies, director for RPS England, pointed out that a blog post, authored by Paul Bennett, chief executive of the RPS, and Claire Anderson had been published since the board’s previous meeting. The article, published on 7 September 2023, set out the RPS’s views and concerns about the UK Commission on Pharmacy Professional Leadership and its proposed UK Pharmacy Professional Leadership Advisory Board.
Neal Patel, associate interim director for pharmacy and membership experience at the RPS, spoke about the opportunities that pharmacist independent prescribing (IP) presents for the RPS.
He said that attitudes among students were changing and teaching methods were being adapted in preparation for the 2026 cohort, who will finish their MPharm degree as qualified prescribers.
Patel added that there was much work for the RPS to consider regarding policy work, upskilling the current workforce and on clinical supervision, especially for the foundation year.
A formal proposal for the future of membership will be going to the Assembly meeting on 21–22 November 2023 for approval, he added, and a new collection of resources relating to pharmacist prescribing will be launched.
Davies also explained that the government announced an increase to the NHS Learning Support Fund for healthcare students on 1 September 2023 The fund, which was first introduced in 2017, allows certain healthcare students undertaking preregistration undergraduate or postgraduate courses in England to claim a training grant of up to £5,000 per year, plus expenses for excess travel and temporary accommodation costs while on practice placements. However, pharmacy students are not eligible for access to the fund.
John Lunny, public affairs manager at the RPS, said he was preparing a letter to be sent to the Department of Health and Social Care, suggesting that pharmacists are included in the fund.
Davies went on to say that a general election is expected before January 2025, meaning that political parties are putting together manifestos and policies ready for the election. The board discussed how much involvement RPS members should have in lobbying and contacting MPs about issues affecting pharmacy.
Alisdair Jones, a member of the EPB, asked how effective it was for RPS members to lobby politicians. Lunny replied that there were two aspects to this: the political issues and the membership engagement.
Oputu asked about the role of the All-Party Parliamentary Group in affecting Parliament.
EPB member Sibby Buckle responded: “If you don’t have a voice, you won’t be heard and we won’t be represented.
“One of the challenges pharmacy has always had is that we’ve been underrepresented and we haven’t shouted loudly enough about what we do, which is why politicians don’t understand what we do.
“It is really important that we represent pharmacy across all parties,” she added, before a discussion commenced about working with other healthcare bodies on a joint manifesto or developing supporting statements.
Ewan Maule, member of the EPB, said that a manifesto “would be more powerful if it was something that was done jointly with other professional bodies”.
He added that MPs were more likely to pay attention to letters from their constituents about issues that affected them than to lobbying. It was suggested that templates and guidance were provided for members to make it easier to contact their MPs.
Oputu responded: “What I’m hearing is we are in agreement in terms of encouraging our members and finding ways to support our members to be able to lobby and communicate with their MPs and to make that an easy thing for them to do.”
She asked: “How do we get our vision across in the manifesto? We do have a big broad vision.”
Davies said he would be attending a roundtable with MPs and is planning to write a blog for members about his experience.
Oputu concluded the item by saying that this is an important time and that we need to grasp the opportunity, showing leadership by being vocal and active.
It was agreed that all board members would submit their ideas for inclusion in a manifesto and this would be presented at the next EPB meeting.
Update on the ‘Vision for pharmacy practice in England’
Davies presented slides showing the 19 delivery recommendations of the ‘Vision for Pharmacy Practice in England’, published on 16 December 2022, and highlighted the work that is ongoing under these recommendations.
Members of the EPB discussed the 19 recommendations and agreed that it would be good to focus on a few priority areas. Oputu said that workforce is clearly a priority and the board needs to work on prioritising two more areas.
Davies said that the planning for 2024 may help with this and a list of expert advisory groups will be circulated to board members. “I think that our work plan priorities will also be linked to the vision priorities we have,” he said.
Davies noted that an implementation group has not been set up as it was decided to use the EPB and the expert advisory groups for these discussions. He said that the vision document has also been shared with the chairs of the integrated care boards (ICBs).
Going forward, Davies said the EPB will working with the ICB leaders’ forum to create more proactive engagement with ICBs on the vision document and on commissioning of community pharmacy services.
Patient group directives for pharmacy technicians
Davies said that it was necessary to form a consensus view across the three pharmacy boards on the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on pharmacy technicians being able to supply and administer medicines under a patient group directive (PGD) and reach agreement on the RPS’s draft policy statement.
Some board members were in favour of the proposed change, but other members raised concerns about the level of training and experience for pharmacy technicians and who would be accountable if something goes wrong. It was discussed that accountability still sits with the Responsible Pharmacist in community pharmacy settings.
It was agreed that a revised version of the statement, including some of the concerns raised, would be circulated to board members.
Planning for the EPB
Next on the agenda was a discussion around the priority areas for 2024. Davies asked for a steer from the EPB on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on pharmacy practice and the challenges of medicines shortages.
Oputu suggested that the RPS science and research team could look into this.
EPB member Sorbi Khattak said: “There’s an opportunity to learn and see how we can incorporate AI into the pharmacy workforce, because it’s going to happen anyway. I think we need to educate ourselves with AI rather than fight it and I think that’s an opportunity.”
Oputu updated the board about the ‘Pharmacy workforce race equality standard’ report. She told the EPB that the results “absolutely verifies my experience and the experience of a lot of other black pharmacists”.
“I think there will be a lot more to come out of that piece of work,” she said.
There was a discussion about whether the RPS should hold a register of designated prescribing practitioners (DPPs) and about the credentialing of the current workforce in relation to pharmacist independent prescribers.
A “one year on” update on the ‘Vision for pharmacy practice in England’ is planned to be presented at the first board meeting in 2024.
New engagement model
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Davies explained that the RPS held a lot of events to engage with members, but more events had taken place online since the pandemic. In August 2022, volunteer regional ambassadors were recruited to facilitate and speak about the RPS at local events, but Davies said “we are largely relying on their goodwill”.
To address this, Davies said that advertisements had been put out for three engagement leads who would cover the north of England and Scotland, west of England and Wales, and the rest of England. The roles are open to pharmacists in practice who would work three days per week to engage members and non-members and represent the RPS at events and shows around the countries.
EPB members were supportive of these new roles but raised concerns that the geographical areas were very large for three people to cover on three days per week.
Pharmacist independent prescribing
Heidi Wright, practice and policy lead for England at the RPS, told the EPB that Marcia Reid, project manager and pharmacist at the RPS, has been engaged to lead on the prescribing proposition for Society members. The overall aim is for 50% of prescribers who are registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to be members of the RPS by 2025.
Wright went on to say that the RPS website is currently being upgraded so that prescribing information is in one place and easy to locate. Prescribing support on the website will be tailored to different pharmacist personas. There will also be a professional support telephone line dedicated to prescribers.
Wright added that new board policies will be needed to cover the separation of prescribing and dispensing, clinical supervision and prescribing remotely.
Davies suggested that the RPS could consider a series of debate events at schools of pharmacy around the country.
A draft position statement about separation of prescribing and dispensing policy has already been developed and circulated to all three boards. The RPS is now engaging with wider stakeholders, in particular the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), because the RPS has joint guidance with them which will be affected.
The RPS will be developing supporting professional guidance to sit alongside the statement and will publish the amended position statement and draft guidance when it has the support of other organisations.
The EPB collectively agreed that the RPS should be “the gateway to IP” and the issue of how foundation trainees will find DPPs was raised.
It was also decided that it was necessary for the EPB to have greater clarity about what will happen for students who graduate as prescribers and undertake foundation placements.
Members agreed that the need for more clarity for providers and students should be discussed with the GPhC.