Pharmacist independent prescribing services will be trialled across England in 2023, in a potentially “game-changing” expansion of the services the profession can provide on the NHS.
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal, David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, confirmed that new ‘pathfinder’ sites will launch in every region of England from the beginning of 2023 and will include NHS-funded pharmacist prescribing services based in community pharmacies.
Webb added that these sites will be based in integrated care organisations and will become a “test bed” for a potential wider rollout of independent prescribing services through the community pharmacy contract in England.
The announcement comes weeks after applications opened for almost 3,000 funded pharmacist independent prescriber (IP) training places in England.
Webb said the ambition was to enable pharmacists to “complete episodes of care for patients”.
“At the moment, we’re able to do really amazing things and support other professionals, but the ability to prescribe and bring that sort of expertise that pharmacists bring around medicines will make them excellent prescribers.”
Webb added that he wanted to prepare for 2026, when all pharmacists will be able to independently prescribe at registration.
“It is important in terms of how we prepare for that moment. And we are going to launch a ‘pathfinder’ programme in terms of pharmacist prescribing.
“The ambition is to have one pathfinder in each region and it is likely to be ICS level. So a systems approach and make use of independent pharmacist prescribing in those pathfinders so that we’re really starting to do some things at scale and be ready for the big change that’s coming.”
When he confirmed that the pilots would include community pharmacy, Webb added: “I think it will probably set the tone and the strategic approach to the next round of [negotiations over] the community pharmacy contractual framework, a couple of years hence. It’s trying to get everything orientated for this really big moment.”
Some community pharmacies in Wales already provide NHS-funded prescribing services under the Choose Pharmacy banner. Similarly, the Pharmacy First Plus in Scotland service allows pharmacist independent prescribers to manage the treatment of patients with common clinical conditions.
However, the ‘pathfinder’ pilots will be the first independent pharmacist prescribing service to be fully funded by the NHS in England.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said this development would be welcomed by many pharmacy contractors.
“[The] PSNC is supportive of any project that aims to develop the use of independent prescribing in community pharmacies, and the plans for this pilot are a positive indicator of the NHS’s commitment to developing the pharmacy workforce,” he said.
Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association, also welcomed the news, adding: “The work of early adopter IPs will help prepare for the opportunities that IP will bring.
“Pharmacist independent prescribing is a potential game-changer and needs to become commonplace in community pharmacies. It would result in a more convenient medicines service for long-term conditions, acute care and the prevention of ill health. Crucially, it would also take pressure off other parts of the NHS and free up capacity in general practice.”
English Pharmacy Board chair Thorrun Govind said the pilots were an “important step”, although she pointed out that it relied on additional support being put in place for those training to be an independent prescriber.
She added: “With every newly qualified pharmacist being able to prescribe at the point of registration in 2026, the RPS looks forward to seeing the existing workforce supported appropriately to ensure access to fully funded IP training and a designated prescribing practitioner.
“Individuals should not be put in a position where they have to self fund a designated prescribing practitioner in order to upskill.”