I would like to acknowledge the valuable and skilled work undertaken by pharmacists throughout the country every day. Community pharmacies do much more than simply dispense medicine - they play a vital role in our communities, offering advice and care.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the APPG on Pharmacy event on 19 September due to prior Parliamentary commitments.
A renewed focus on prevention has resulted in pharmacists playing a greater role in the delivery of healthcare services. To ease pressures on GP practices, the Government has committed to expanding the range of services available from community pharmacies, freeing up time for GPs to support patients with more complex needs.
In May this year, the Government published a delivery plan for recovering access to primary care, including GP services. This new plan included a commitment to invest up to £645 million to enable pharmacists to provide treatment for common conditions. Pharmacists will be able to supply prescription-only medicines for ear pain, severe sore throat, skin infections and urinary infections. They will be able to start courses of oral contraception.
These measures are aimed at freeing up an estimated 2 million appointments.
I warmly welcome that the Government is backing the recently-published workforce plan developed by the NHS to train and retain more staff to deliver patient care over the next 15 years. This includes a commitment to expand training places for pharmacists by 29 per cent to around 4,300 by 2028/29. This will put the UK on the path to increasing training places by around half overall to almost 5,000 by 2031/32.
The Government is also committed to sustainably funding community pharmacies. The Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework five-year deal commits £2.5 billion in each financial year between 2019 and 2024 for community pharmacies. In September 2022, following discussions between the Department, NHS England and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents pharmacy contractors in England, the Government announced an agreement for the remaining years of the Framework, including a one-off investment of £100 million.
I note the concerns about community pharmacies making a loss when dispensing NHS prescriptions. When market prices go up and pharmacies cannot purchase products at or below the Drug Tariff National Health Service reimbursement price, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee can request the Department to reconsider the reimbursement price. If a new reimbursement price is issued this is known as a concessionary price. Concessionary prices are established using real time data from suppliers to generate prices that are reflective of the overall market.
Further, as part of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework, pharmacies are allowed to keep £800 million medicines margin per year. Medicine margin is the difference between the reimbursement price and the prices paid by pharmacies. The Department assesses the overall medicine margin retained by pharmacies, through a medicine margin survey. If less than £800 million has been retained during the year an upwards adjustment is made to some reimbursement prices and if more than £800 million has been retained a downward adjustment is made.
I also note the concerns that giving pharmacists the powers to prescribe medications could lead to antibiotic resistance. However, the Government is not making antibiotics available over the counter. The Government's proposals would allow pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics, without the advice of a doctor, to patients they believe are suffering from specific conditions.
Separately, the Government launched a call to evidence to inform the next stage of tackling antimicrobial resistance, including a new 5-year national action plan to protect patients from deadly infections. The call for evidence ended on 20 January 2023, and the Government is currently analysing responses and will respond in due course.
The registration assessment is one of the ways that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) tests whether someone can demonstrate that they understand how to apply knowledge appropriately and in a timely way, to make professional judgements in pharmacy practice.
Registration processes like these are designed to protect patients by ensuring that pharmacists have achieved the same minimum standard of ability.
The GPhC has returned to two exam sittings per year – the same as before the pandemic.
All provisionally registered pharmacists are entitled to study time. The amount and nature of the study time may vary according to individual needs, but it must be in addition to any study undertaken independently.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling to organise study time, I would recommend contacting the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) support line (0207 572 2737, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm) that has been set up for provisionally registered pharmacists. You do not have to be a member of the RPS to access this service.
It is deeply concerning that in 2020, two-thirds (2,996) of drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales were related to the misuse or addiction – the highest number since records began in 1993.
Professional bodies representing pharmacies recognise the scale of this problem and are clearly communicating the actions that pharmacies can take to prevent drug related deaths. For example, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made a number of recommendations to pharmacists to reduce harm and prevent death among people who use drugs.
In addition, in 2021 the Government published findings from a review into the use of medications and overprescribing. Led by the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, the review examined the causes of overprescribing and set an ambition for reducing the volume of prescription items in primary care by 10 per cent.
It also recommended system-wide changes to improve patient records, supporting shared decision making between clinicians and patients and empowering GPs to challenge and change prescribing made in Hospitals.
Finally, while I understand the concerns about the use of ID checks for medication, pharmacists have a responsibility to supply medicines safely, which includes verifying a patient's identity either in store or online.
Requirements like this also help to ensure that medication such as painkillers are not overprescribed or prescribed inappropriately. It is deeply concerning that in 2020, two-thirds (2,996) of drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales were related to the misuse or addiction – the highest number since records began in 1993.