Pharmacists able to dispense COVID-19 treatments without a prescription under government protocols

Changes to legislation mean that government ministers or NHS bodies will be able to issue “pandemic treatment protocols” that authorise the “supply of prescription-only medicines without a prescription”.

A pharmacy technician dispensing medicines

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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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Changes to the pharmacy terms of service will enable pharmacists to dispense any potential treatments for COVID-19 under a government-issued protocol

Community pharmacists will be able to dispense COVID-19 treatments without a prescription under government-issued protocols, following changes to the pharmacy terms of service.

Amendments to the NHS (Charges and Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2020 will now allow government ministers or NHS bodies to issue “pandemic treatment protocols” that “can be used to authorise supply of prescription-only medicines without a prescription”.

According to the legislation’s explanatory memorandum, protocols will be issued “if a Covid-19 treatment became available that was suitable for distribution via community pharmacies” and it was not found to be necessary for an authorised prescriber to decide to treat.

The protocols will not be limited to COVID-19, extending to “treatment for other pandemic diseases” as well, the memorandum says.

Changes to the legislation will come into effect on 9 November 2020 — 21 days after the amendments were laid before parliament on 19 October 2020 — and form part of the essential service dispensing provisions.

The amendments also allow for “flexible provision of immunisation services during the pandemic”, which enable community pharmacies to close, with the permission of NHS England, “to focus on the delivery of flu or COVID-19 vaccinations”.

“Much larger numbers of patients than is usual will need to be vaccinated, and this measure will support both the expansion of the national flu vaccination programme and any future national Covid-19 vaccination programme,” the explanatory memorandum says.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) had previously said it was in talks with the government about allowing pharmacies to close to deliver flu vaccines in an effort to cope with demand this year.

The legislative amendments follow the government’s decision to allow pharmacists to deliver unlicensed — in addition to licensed — vaccinations, such as a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available, with further work under way to expand the workforce able to deliver flu vaccines.

Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “We welcome news that community pharmacists will be involved in providing treatments for COVID-19 without a prescription, which will follow similar protocols to the current flu vaccination programme.

“The relaxing of regulations concerning opening times, in the agreement of NHS England and Improvement, will support some pharmacies to facilitate these treatments. We now look forward to further information on the role that community pharmacy will play in providing these services throughout this pandemic.”

The amendments also set in law the introduction of the Discharge Medicines Service as an essential service from 1 January 2021 and the requirement for all pharmacies to meet the Healthy Living Pharmacy level 1 requirements by 1 April 2021.

The PSNC said in a statement on its website that further information on the new regulations “will be published over the next few days”.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Pharmacists able to dispense COVID-19 treatments without a prescription under government protocols;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208471

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