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New powers for dental and pharmacy staff to free up appointments

By Department of Health and Social Care and The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP | 5th April 2024 | News

The move will streamline processes within dental and pharmacy settings and improve patient experiences.

  • Government announces plans to give greater powers to pharmacy technicians, dental therapists and hygienists following 2 public consultations
  • The move will help to free up access to care for patients across dental practices and pharmacies
  • The new plans build on efforts to improve access to primary care, including through Pharmacy First and the dental recovery plan

Patients will have faster, simpler and fairer access to primary care as the government gives new powers to pharmacy technicians, dental hygienists and dental therapists to supply and administer medicines, Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom announced today (28 March 2024).

The move follows 2 public consultations run by the government, which found widespread support for giving new powers to these staff to cut bureaucracy and support more efficient patient care.

Dental hygienists and therapists will be able to give patients certain types of medicines - including pain relief and fluoride - without sign off from a dentist. Pharmacy technicians will now be able to administer and supply specified medicines to certain groups of patients, without those patients having to see a prescriber. These changes will potentially enable pharmacy technicians to undertake tasks like administering vaccinations and providing consultations under Pharmacy First.

The move will also free up pharmacists' and dentists' time, allowing them to deliver more patient-facing clinical services and improving access to primary care services for patients.

Today's announcement is part of the latest series of measures the government has brought forward to cut waiting lists and improve access to primary care, which includes the publication of the dental recovery plan , which aims to free up 2.5 million more appointments this year, and the expansion of the Pharmacy First  scheme, which enables pharmacists to treat 7 common conditions, and will free up to 10 million GP appointments per year.

There are currently over 25,500 pharmacy technicians working in pharmacies across England, Scotland and Wales, while there are 9,733 dental hygienists and 6,198 dental therapists currently registered with the General Dental Council in the UK.

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said:

"We want to give patients faster, simpler and fairer access to the care they need, when they need it - and giving these powers to pharmacy technicians, dental therapists and hygienists will do just that.

"Today's announcement shows we are continuing to deliver on our promises made to improve access to primary care for all, building on the government's long term ambitions, including through the dental recovery plan and the expansion of the Pharmacy First scheme.

"We want to ensure our fantastic staff are recognised for the vital work that they do, working to their full scope of practice and delivering for everyone who walks through their doors.

Nicola Stockmann, President of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, said:

"APTUK welcome this update to legislation, recognising the value of the pharmacy technician profession. This is a landmark moment for the expansion of access for patients to pharmacy services in a pressured healthcare landscape without compromising patient care.

"Miranda Steeples, President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, said:

"BSDHT welcomes plans to enable our professions to work to the full extent of their skillset and give them new powers that enable them to offer patients the care they need.

Everyone will benefit from an oral healthcare team that runs more smoothly and uses its time effectively.

The public consultations ran in 2023 and received overwhelming support, with 97% of respondents agreeing that dental hygienists and therapists should be given new powers,  and 84% of respondents agreeing for pharmacy technicians. Respondents commenting on both sets of proposals included members of the public, NHS and health service delivery bodies, and private and not-for-profit organisations.

The changes fall under the government and NHS's primary care recovery plan , which sets out the vision to ensure the NHS can deliver at the very maximum of its capability, utilising all its professional staff and contractors, including in pharmacies and dental practices.

Dental therapists and hygienists are currently able to administer medicines, including local anaesthetic and high-strength fluoride, but they need a prescription from a dentist. This means breaking from the patient and interrupting the dentist's own work to get the prescription signed. The proposed exemptions will enable dental therapists and hygienists to supply or administer specific medicines on their own authority, making the process more efficient for patients and practices.

The new proposals will allow pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines using patient group directions. This will avoid the requirement for patients to see additional healthcare professionals just to receive medicines, making it easier for patients to get the medicines they need when they need them while maintaining public safety.

Professor Claire Anderson, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said:

"Enabling pharmacy technicians to undertake further services under a patient group direction (PGD) will increase capacity for pharmacy teams and further support consistency of services being offered within pharmacy.

"This will support transformational change within pharmacy teams and enable the further evolution of the pharmacist's role into more complex clinical care.

"In keeping with wider discussions across pharmacy, it is essential that the accountability and professional responsibility of pharmacy technicians is clearly understood in situations where PGDs are being used.

Dr Fiona Sandom, Chair of The British Association of Dental Therapists, said:

"The British Association of Dental Therapists is delighted that dental therapists and dental hygienists will soon be able to supply and administer certain prescription only medicines to patients without a need for a patient specific direction (PSD) or a patient group direction (PGD).

"This will allow dental therapists and dental hygienists to use their full scope of practice and deliver the care they have been trained and educated to deliver.

As outlined in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the specified aim is to deliver 15% of dental activity through dental therapists and dental hygienists, as opposed to the current estimate of 5%. The plan also sets out the ambition to increase training places for pharmacists by nearly 50% to around 5,000 places by 2031 to 2032, and to grow the number of pharmacy technicians.

The DTA would like to congratulate the BSDHT on the success of this news.

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