Do advanced paramedics have a role as independent prescribers?

adobe-spark-3The journey regarding the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedic practitioners has been one focused on patient safety and a strong case for need. The challenge for the profession has been to ensure it’s positioned to respond to any concerns, and that any changes to the law allowing prescribing are made on the basis that patients will benefit.

Ministerial approval to take the proposal forward to the public consultation phase was granted by NHS England on 15 August 2014. The NHS England Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team, in partnership with the College of Paramedics, developed a case of need for the proposal based on improving quality of care for patients. These improvements related to safety, clinical outcomes and experience, as well as the efficiency of service delivery, and value for money. Approval of the case of need was received from NHS England’s medical and nursing senior management teams in May 2014, and from the Department of Health non-medical prescribing board in July 2014.

Alongside the paramedic proposal, NHS England consulted on proposals to allow three other allied health professions to be able to prescribe or supply and administer medicines, as appropriate for their patients. These proposals were for independent prescribing by radiographers; supplementary prescribing by dietitians; and the use of exemptions within the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 by orthoptists.

At the time, Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at NHS England, said:

‘Our proposals will allow patients to get the medicines they need without delay, instead of having to make separate appointments to see their doctor or GP.

‘Breaking down barriers in how care is provided between different parts of the NHS is key to the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

‘Extension of prescribing and supply mechanisms for these four professions creates a more flexible workforce, able to innovate to provide services that are more responsive to the needs of patients, and reduce demand in other parts of the healthcare system.’

The public consultation opened on 26 February 2015 and ran for 12 weeks. As well as consulting on proposals for advanced paramedics to become independent prescribers of medicines across the UK, it also proposed that consideration be given to paramedic independent prescribers being allowed to mix licensed medicines prior to administration, and prescribe independently from a restricted list of controlled drugs. Anyone was welcome to respond, and feedback was received from members of the public, patients/patient representative groups, carers, voluntary organisations, health-care providers, commissioners, doctors, pharmacists, allied health professionals, nurses, regulators, non-medical prescribers and the Royal Colleges, as well as other representative bodies.

Why independent prescribing was not recommended

Following the close of the consultation, responses received were collated and analysed. The responses were considered by both the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) and Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who felt unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at present.

The reasons for this decision were concerns over the wide range of conditions encountered by advanced paramedics and whether they could demonstrate evidence of adequate training and competency to diagnose the conditions that will be prescribed for. Additionally, there were notable concerns over the definition of an advanced paramedic practitioner, as this appears to vary between allied health professionals.

As a result, The CHM felt that independent prescribing might represent a risk to patient safety; for example, and in context with the lack of available evidence of competency at the time, if the wrong diagnosis was made and an inappropriate treatment was prescribed. They also felt that some of the examples cited to demonstrate a need for independent prescribing were not sufficiently robust.

Considering the possibility of independent prescribing

The College of Paramedics expressed disappointment that the CHM was unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at the present time, and has said it will continue its support and commitment to work with the project, and with NHS England this year to address the very legitimate comments made by the CHM. The college also said it would give regular updates to its members on the progress of the work.

Speaking on the possible future for independent prescribing by advanced paramedics, Andy Collen, medicines and prescribing project lead for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘We absolutely think that advanced paramedics have got a role as independent prescribers. The journey for any profession to undertake independent prescribing has to be done so with absolute rigour and consideration for patient safety. We need to provide reassurance that what is being proposed is going to benefit patients completely and that any risks are understood. Although it is disappointing, we absolutely welcome the feedback from CHM and we are continuing to work to answer the concerns the CHM have, and that is being supported by NHS England.’

Gerry Egan, chief executive officer of the College of Paramedics, said:

‘The College has a clear definition of the advanced paramedic role in terms of competencies and education and is working to make this the accepted definition both across the NHS and in the private health sector.

‘The College have no doubts advanced paramedics will deliver a massive benefit to patients in terms of delivering the right care at the right place and at the right time by the use of safe independent prescribing as part of integrated care systems.

‘The College remains totally committed to the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedics and looks forward to continuing supporting NHS England.’

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published 9 September 2016.

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