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Landmark decision gives UK physios a world first in prescribing rights

24 July 2012 - 1:11am

UK physiotherapists have won a long-fought battle to be able to improve their patients’ care by prescribing them medicines without needing a doctor to sign off their decision.

Chief executive Phil Gray and professional adviser Pip White respond to the Department of Health's historic decision. Video: Kiran Acharya

In an announcement today Earl Howe, the Department of Health’s under secretary for quality, said that the move would ensure that patients could benefit from faster access to medicines such as painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

‘Physiotherapists are highly trained clinicians who play a vital role in ensuring patients receive integrated care that helps them recover after treatment or to manage a long-term condition successfully,’ he said.

‘By introducing these changes, we aim to make the best use of their skills and allow patients to benefit from a faster and more effective service.’

Once suitably trained, physiotherapists in the UK will be the first in the world to be able to independently prescribe medicines where clinically appropriate, he said.

The decision comes after 10 years of campaigning by the CSP. In addition to treatment for chronic pain it will also mean that specially trained physiotherapsists will be able to give their patients treatments for conditions like

  • asthma
  • neurological disorders
  • rheumatolgoical conditions
  • women’s health issues.

'The move to full independent prescribing responsibilities marks a landmark decision in healthcare provision,’ said CSP chair Dr Helena Johnson. ‘Giving physiotherapists the right to prescribe independently will hugely improve the care we can provde to our patients.’

The decision would, she said, reduce a layer of bureaucracy.

‘It will reduce an unnecessary burden on doctors who have, until now, had to counter-sign prescriptions drawn up by physiotherapists who are already supplementary prescribers.

Physiotherapists have been able to become supplementary prescribers since 2005.

‘It will mean things will get sorted out more quickly for patients,’ said supplementary prescriber Julie Read, who works with a community-based respiratory team in south west London.

Meanwhile Andrew McEwan, supplementary prescribing course leader at Leeds Metropolitan University added: ‘Physiotherapists who become independent prescribers will feel a real sense of professional achievement.’

The changes will also mean that another allied health profession, podiatry, will enjoy similar new prescribing powers.

Changes will now need to be made to medicines legislation, after which the Health Professions Council will need to set up approved courses – many of them expected to be at colleges already offering supplementary prescribing courses. The first cohort of approved independent physiotherapy prescribers is expected to recruited to these courses in autumn 2013.

The necessary changes to the Medicines Act 1968 will apply UK wide from the outset. For these changes to apply in NHS settings, additional changes will need to be made to NHS regulations. The government plans to change NHS regulations in England as soon as possible.
The devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will determine how and whether to take forward changes to their NHS Regulations.
The response from the medical profession has been overwhelmingly positive.
Bill Beeby, chair of the BMA’s GP clinical and prescribing subcommittee, welcomed the move: ‘It is appropriate that accredited physiotherapists and podiatrists should be able to use their training to prescribe within their area of expertise, in the same way already undertaken by nurses and pharmacists,’ he said, adding that appropriate regulation of the protocols was essential to ensure patient safety was maintained.
Professor Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, also added her support: ‘This is demonstrably in the interest of better patient care and efficient use of NHS resources,’ she said.


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