Patients and pharmacies to benefit from changes to supervision

Plans to make better use of pharmacies, improve access to primary care and maximise the contribution of pharmacy professionals set out in new consultation

  • Skilled pharmacy technicians to play greater role supporting customers and patients with the safe dispensing of medicines as part of the Primary Care Recovery Plan
  • Rule change designed to free up pharmacists to provide more clinical care
  • Consultation is latest step in improving access to care for patients and releasing capacity in the wider NHS

Plans to make better use of pharmacies, improve access to primary care and maximise the contribution of pharmacy professionals across healthcare have been set out in a government consultation, launched today.

As part of its Primary Care Recovery Plan the government is considering changes to medicine supervision requirements in pharmacies.

Currently, the preparation, assembly, dispensing, sale and supply of pharmacy and prescription only medicines can only be carried out by, or under the supervision of, a pharmacist. However, as registered and regulated health professionals, pharmacy technicians are qualified to work without direct supervision.

These proposals would allow pharmacists to safely delegate more allowing them to spend more time delivering patient-facing clinical services - in turn freeing up more appointments in general practice.

Health Minister Andrea Leadsom said:

"This is about making the most of the talents of our excellent and highly trained pharmacy staff, to benefit them and their patients, and improve service delivery more generally.

"By giving pharmacy technicians the chance to use their skills in a safe way and take on more responsibility for dispensing, pharmacists will have more time to carry out the clinical assessments they are trained to do.

"These include providing advice on oral contraception, common conditions and blood pressure tests rather than patients having to book an appointment at a general practice."

Following the 12-week consultation and subsequent work by regulators and professional bodies, a pharmacist would be able to authorise pharmacy technicians to run a dispensary with reference to a pharmacist only where necessary.

Extensive engagement with the sector and profession has informed these proposals which have the support of the four Chief Pharmaceutical Officers of the UK.

In a joint statement, the four Chief Pharmaceutical Officers, said:

"These proposals will improve future patient care across the four UK nations by making appropriate, safe and productive use of pharmacy technicians’ knowledge and skills while at the same time enabling pharmacists to deliver a wider range of clinical services to support patients in hospitals and community pharmacies.

"Recognising and more effectively using the skills of pharmacy technicians will enable pharmacists to spend a greater proportion of their time delivering patient-facing clinical services – using their training and expertise, including prescribing, to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and local communities.

"This will improve career progression for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and ensure they are using their training and skills to contribute to the best of their professional ability as part of the NHS team."

The government’s Primary Care Recovery Plan, announced in May 2023, is designed to stop the 8am GP appointment rush, make it easier to get an appointment at a general practice and develop Pharmacy First to make the most of trained pharmacist staff. This consultation is delivering on the government’s commitment to provide greater flexibility to community pharmacies about how they deploy staff and release pharmacists’ time for more patient-facing services. 

The proposals aim to:

  • Enable pharmacists to authorise registered pharmacy technicians to perform tasks that would otherwise need to be performed by or under the supervision of pharmacists;
  • Let registered pharmacy technicians take primary responsibility for the preparation and assembly of medicinal products in highly specialised sterile manufacturing units in hospitals;
  • Allow checked and bagged prescribed medicines to be handed out in a retail pharmacy in the absence of a pharmacist – where authorised by a pharmacist. This aims to bring an end to situations where a patient cannot pick up their prescription when the pharmacist is at lunch or otherwise unavailable.

There are over 67,000 pharmacists registered in the UK who will be empowered to have greater say in how staff are deployed and how medicines are dispensed. This would represent a significant shift in how medicines dispensing is supervised and help make pharmacy services more efficient and fit for the future.

This follows the recent consultation launched to enable pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines under a patient group direction - a written instruction that permits listed healthcare professionals to supply or administer medicines to make it easier for patients to get the medicines they need when they need them. Responses to that consultation are being considered.

Pharmacy First plans – backed by up to £645 million – mean that from 1 December 2023 thousands of women are able to get their contraceptive pill from their local pharmacy with up to 25% of all women on oral contraception able to benefit from this new service.

Pharmacists are also increasing the number of life-saving blood pressure checks given to at-risk patients over the next year with a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by Spring 2025 – up from 900,000 carried out last year.  It is estimated this could prevent more than 1,350 heart attacks and strokes in the first year.

In addition, from early next year patients will be able to get treatment for seven common conditions directly from a pharmacy, without the need for a GP appointment or prescription. The new service will cover sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.

At the same time the government has reached its commitment of 50 million more GP appointments, as well as recruiting over 34,000 additional direct patient care staff working in general practice and committed to a 50% increase in the number of GP trainees.

Recognising the importance of strengthening the depth of talent in pharmacy teams, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, backed by over £2.4 billion funding, sets out the ambition to increase training places for pharmacists by nearly 50% to around 5,000 by 2031/32, and to grow the number of pharmacy technicians. There is further potential to continue to expand training via an apprenticeship route for pharmacy technicians.

Department of Health and Social Care
The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP