NHS England has broken ground on the much-anticipated community pharmacy independent prescribing pilots, inviting local integrated care leaders to submit expressions of interest for additional funding.
Emails sent this week to pharmacy leaders, and seen by The Pharmaceutical Journal, reveal that integrated care system (ICS) leaders have been asked “to submit an expression of interest that is supported by their integrated care board (ICB)” to join the ‘pathfinder’ programme from 12:00 on 16 January 2023 to 00:00 on 28 February 2023.
“This programme is intended to explore how community pharmacists and their teams can deliver an integrated clinical service aligning prescribing activity with general practice and the population needs of local communities,” the email said.
It added that additional funding “will be available through the [NHS England] Pharmacy Integration Fund to support the service delivery and evaluation of the pathfinders”.
The pathfinder pilots, revealed by The Pharmaceutical Journal in August 2022, will trial the first ever independent pharmacist prescribing service to be fully funded by the NHS in England.
At the time, David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said that the ‘pathfinder’ sites would be launched in every ICS in 2023.
Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, later clarified in September 2022 that the ‘pathfinder’ sites would launch in January 2023, following a call for expressions of interest between October and November 2022.
However, a response from NHS England to a freedom of information request, received on 11 January 2023, revealed that this start date has been delayed.
“[The programme’s] original timescales were extended to allow for input into the process from regional stakeholders,” the response said, adding that “the EOI process is now due to be launched in January 2023 and completed by March 2023”.
The delay comes despite remarks made by health secretary Steve Barclay in the House of Commons on 9 January 2023 that said the government “will work with community pharmacists to tackle barriers to offering more services”.
Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said: “The NPA sees independent prescribing as an essential element of the future clinical offer in community pharmacies.
“It allows pharmacists to provide complete solutions to patients, rather than having to refer elsewhere and prolong the episode of care.
“People can enjoy a more convenient service in relation to treating acute illness and managing long-term conditions. There are significant opportunities in the sphere of women’s health.
“The move for all newly qualified pharmacists to be independent prescribers from 2026 could mark a step-change, but only if there are widespread opportunities to apply prescribing skills within properly funded NHS services.
“That’s why we have been delighted to support the preliminary work on the pathfinders and will encourage our members to engage fully with the opportunity.”
Some community pharmacies in Wales already provide NHS-funded prescribing services under the ‘Choose Pharmacy’ banner.
Similarly, the ‘Pharmacy First Plus’ service in Scotland allows pharmacist independent prescribers to manage the treatment of patients with common clinical conditions.
NHS England was approached for comment but did not respond in time for publication.