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Pharmacy Inquiry: Debate erupts over professional boundaries in community pharmacy

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Health Minister Dame Andrea Leadsom defends current practices, emphasizing patient safety and dismissing claims of technician overreach

Labour’s Paulette Hamilton has raised concerns regarding the increasing reliance on pharmacy technicians in clinical practice due to staffing shortages within pharmacies.

At the recent Pharmacy Inquiry session, Hamilton highlighted the mounting pressure on technicians to take on more responsibilities beyond their qualifications, attributing it to the launch of Pharmacy First in January.

With almost 50,000 Pharmacy First consultations conducted in the first month alone as per a report by the Company Chemists’ Association, Hamilton expressed apprehension about technicians being classified under the broad term of “pharmacy professionals,” blurring the distinction between their roles and those of clinical pharmacists.

She further drew parallels between this situation and the scrutiny faced by physician associates (PAs) in GP practices following a patient’s death due to misdiagnosis and cautioned against technicians performing tasks beyond their expertise and urged policymakers to prevent similar incidents in pharmacy settings.

Health Minister Dame Andrea Leadsom responded by defending the current approach, denying any “blurring of the edges” and emphasizing patient safety as the top priority.

She dismissed concerns about technicians practicing above their training, stating that the intention is to improve patient access while ensuring safety.

Hamilton further pressed, suggesting that the issue originates from pharmacists themselves, and urged policymakers to heed their concerns.

The debate underscored broader questions about professional boundaries and patient safety as the pharmacy workforce evolves.

David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for NHS England, highlighted the regulation of both pharmacists and technicians by the General Pharmaceutical Council, ensuring adherence to patient safety standards.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is considering responses to a consultation on pharmacy supervision, aiming to expand the role of pharmacy staff cautiously.

Dame Andrea assured that patient safety remains paramount, with strict controls in place to prevent skill drift and emphasized the need for clear communication to patients about the roles of different healthcare professionals as well as the importance of maintaining safety standards amid workforce expansions in community pharmacy.

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