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Enhanced role for pharmacists gets green light following first recommendation of expert taskforce

By Irish Pharmacist - 02nd Dec 2023

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced plans to enable pharmacists to extend the validity of prescriptions from the current maximum period of six months to 12 months, in a move that will improve patient care and access.

The new measure, which will take effect from 1 March 2024, will also allow prescribers to write prescriptions with a maximum validity of 12 months, if they so wish.

The announcement follows the Minister’s acceptance of the first recommendation of the Expert Taskforce which is examining the possible expansion of the role of pharmacists.

The new measure will help reduce the need for GP appointments for many groups of patients by ensuring that those who are stable on medication can avail of an extension of their prescription up to a maximum 12 months in total, if a pharmacist considers it safe and appropriate to do so.

Minister Donnelly said: “I’m very pleased to accept the first recommendation of the Expert Taskforce, a recommendation that recognises the fact that pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals who play a crucial role in our health service. Expanding the legal validity of prescriptions will reduce the demand on GP practices while giving pharmacists enhanced scope of practice that ultimately benefits the patient. This will be a welcomed by many patients who will also be able to continue medications without the need for a repeat visit to a GP for a repeat prescription. I’m confident that we will very quickly begin to see the benefits of this measure and I look forward to receiving additional recommendations from the Expert Taskforce in order to further facilitate pharmacists in expanding their scope of practice.”

Established by the Minister in July, the Taskforce is identifying ways of enhancing the delivery of patient-centred care and facilitating ease of access to healthcare for patients in line with the vision of Sláintecare. The Expert Taskforce is made up of 13 experts with experience in pharmacy education and practice, healthcare policy and delivery, and other related disciplines. Its first report was delivered to the Minister recently. The measures will be implemented from 1 March 2024, allowing time for the completion of the necessary legislative changes and for regulatory and clinical guidance as well as educational supports to be put in place. The taskforce will continue to work closely with Department of Health colleagues to further progress the expansion of the scope of practice of pharmacy in line with enhanced healthcare access for patients.

Pharmacists will have the power to extend prescriptions up to a maximum of 12 months for patients if they judge that it is appropriate to do so. Pharmacists may decide, following assessment, to refuse a patient’s request for extension of a prescription.

Guidance for pharmacists will be issued by PSI, the Pharmacy Regulator.

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