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Maggie Hook
Maggie Hook, one of the first pharmacists to qualify from the Supplementary Prescribers course at the University of Bath

Press Release - 15 December 2004

New role for pharmacists as prescribers of medicines

Pharmacists who can prescribe medicines without the need for a doctor’s counter-signature will be starting work in pharmacies, GP surgeries, hospices and hospitals across the South West later this month.

Eleven pharmacists from the region have just qualified from a new Supplementary Prescribing course at the University of Bath which helps pharmacists develop the skills they need to take on some of the tasks traditionally carried out by doctors.

hese tasks include carrying out basic medical examinations, such as checking blood glucose and measuring blood pressure, monitoring diseases like diabetes or hypertension and prescribing certain medicines, especially repeat prescriptions, for everything from stroke recovery to asthma.

This new role for pharmacists has come about through changes introduced by the Department of Health that will see pharmacists providing more healthcare services to patients that have stable chronic conditions.

This will help to free-up doctors’ time so that they can spend longer with the patients with more complex illnesses.

One of the pharmacists who has just qualified from the course is Maggie Hook who owns a community pharmacy in Somerset and provides the pharmaceutical service for St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol.

She said that the pharmacy profession is on the cusp of a change that will benefit patients, doctors and pharmacists alike.

“We are about to get a new contract which will offer the opportunity to do things differently,” she said. “With the new role of supplementary prescriber, pharmacies that are open when GP surgeries are closed at weekends and evenings will be able to offer patients the opportunity to access the healthcare they need at a time that suits them.”

Maggie’s role at St Peter’s Hospice formed the core part of her Supplementary Prescriber training. At the heart of this was the development of a strong clinical partnership with the medical director who was responsible for part of the teaching.

“I work in a very specialised setting where patients’ needs are treated in a holistic way,” she said. “Pharmacists instinctively focus on drug treatment, but the Supplementary Prescriber course has made me appreciate the importance of addressing all the patient’s needs to determine how appropriate it is for them to have the medicine.”

Taking part in the course has also given Maggie a range of new career opportunities for the future.

“Until now, I have always answered the question ‘why are you not a doctor?’ with, ‘I did not want to examine people’. I can’t say this anymore. I have really enjoyed learning the basic examination skills for monitoring blood pressure and oxygen saturation.”

“I have also received the support and respect of the other team members in my learning group which I was concerned at the start would not be forthcoming. However, everyone enjoys sharing knowledge and my senior nursing sister has taken time to improve my injection skills which I, and I hope the patients, have appreciated.”

“In years to come I would like to see myself working in a clinical setting which valued skills, recognised, trusted and embraced new roles so that more patients can benefit from new ways of providing services.

“I am extremely fortunate to have been able to complete this course and hope to continue to prescribe with my medical director at the hospice for some time. I have also been asked to work with another doctor and will strengthen our relationship and trust to make the most of this new opportunity.”

In the past, many pharmacists have felt that their extensive knowledge and skills have been underutilised in the drive to improve the quality of, and access to, NHS provision.

“It makes sense to use the many skills of pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in delivering access to the NHS,” said Professor Anthony Smith, the pharmacist who heads the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University.

“Pharmacists in particular have had lots of training but their skills are not utilised for what are largely historical reasons. This course is breaking new boundaries for the profession and helps pharmacists take on the new professional role as prescribers. Ultimately it will help leave GPs with time to concentrate on acute cases.”

The course, which is accredited by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, is delivered through distance learning with a specific focus on their future area of prescribing, so that pharmacists can learn in a real-life practice setting.

“The students learn how to do everything from managing their new responsibilities to carrying out a patient consultation which may involve completing a basic physical examination,” said Denise Taylor, Senior Teaching Fellow in Clinical Pharmacy at the University.

“Next year the course will be open to other healthcare professionals including physiotherapists and radiologists, and we look forward to welcoming them to their studies.

“Although we primarily look after this kind of training for the South West, we also have people from throughout the UK signing up for the next six month course which starts in January 2005.”