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.

Pay survey reveals two thirds of paramedics considering leaving ambulance service

Adobe Spark (5)Two thirds of staff say they will consider leaving the ambulance service if a change to the pay banding of paramedics is not made, according to a survey carried out by the Journal of Paramedic Practice.

An online poll completed by 1084 paramedics has revealed that 67% will consider leaving the ambulance service if the Government continues to fall back on its 2015 promise of reviewing the banding system to recognise the skill set of paramedics. Additionally, 87% felt the Government has misled ambulance service staff over promises for pay.

One respondent said: ‘Increased pressure to use alternative pathways, treat at home, discharge on scene. Increased level of assessment and treatment options, together with increased expectation of qualifications and study, but for no extra pay? Ridiculous.’

Another said: ‘Several of my colleagues and friends are struggling to pay their home bills and have left the job for better paying roles in the Arab states.’

Commenting on the findings, Gerry Egan, chief executive officer for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘Since its establishment, the College of Paramedics has worked hard to develop the paramedic profession in the interests of providing the best possible care to patients and to ensure that paramedics receive due recognition for the service they give to society.

‘This combined with the increased reliance on paramedics by the health system, which has come about for a number of reasons, means that there has been a continuous increase in the expectations of the range and quality of services that paramedics provide. So it comes as no surprise that the results of the Journal of Paramedic Practice’s survey are similar to a survey conducted by the College of Paramedics last year.

In 2014, paramedics were among the thousands of health professionals who took to the picket line in the first NHS strike over pay in 32 years.

The dispute came as ministers in England awarded NHS staff a 1% increase in pay, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises.

Despite the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommending a 1% rise across all pay scales, ministers claimed this was an ‘unaffordable’ cost.

In a desperate effort to resolve the pay dispute of 2014/15, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, agreed to a number of commitments to ambulance staff, including a review of the banding system.

Current vacancy rates for the paramedic profession are at 10%. This represents 1 250 vacancies out of a total workforce of 12 500. It is believed that these high vacancy rates are due to changes made to the healthcare system in recent years. This includes a shift in focus to treat patients at home rather than conveying them to A&E, as well as a change in the nature and volume of job opportunities for paramedics.

Almost all respondents (93%) of the survey believed that the current scope of practice of paramedics is changing as a result of increased skills and competencies. Additionally, 94% felt band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale was a more appropriate pay band due to the level of responsibility and autonomy practised within the paramedic role, including triage, referrals, and decisions around non conveyance. Overall, 96% believed their pay did not reflect their responsibilities.

However, not all believed that current pay for paramedics has contributed to increasing vacancy rates and the number of people leaving the profession.

‘I disagree that this would be a reason for paramedics leaving,’ said one respondent. ‘With the role having changed so much, I believe that our advanced practice colleagues (paramedic practitioner/emergency care practitioner) are leaving to work in hospitals. There is potential to earn more money, better chance of a break, and better working conditions. I disagree that pay alone is a reason staff are leaving.’

According to Egan, the significance behind the figures for those considering leaving the profession may be unclear:

‘The responses regarding those intending to leave their positions as paramedics may be blurred somewhat between those intending to leave ambulance service employers and those who might leave the profession,’ he said. ‘It is a well-known fact that many paramedics are leaving ambulance services to take up opportunities in walk-in centres, minor injuries units and the like.’

A large number of respondents felt that it was work pressures and stress that have contributed most to the number of paramedics leaving the ambulance service:

One respondent said: ‘I don’t think pay is a factor in staff leaving. Lack of retention [is] more likely due to increased workloads, poor culture and public expectation.’

Another respondent said: ‘There have been some paramedics with MSc or BSc that have left to find better paid jobs. But the majority of paramedics leaving the profession is due to the increasing workload and the undertaking of urgent care alongside emergency work. Demand, stress and pressure are why paramedics are leaving, not money.’

Stress and burnout remain an undeniable issue facing ambulance staff, with paramedics in England taking 41 243 days off in 2014 as a result of stress-related illnesses. This has had an inevitable impact on those choosing to leave the ambulance service. Only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics .

Another significant finding was that 66% of respondents believed there are no adequate opportunities for career progression.

A common consensus was that progression only came in the form of management positions, with few opportunities for promotion in a clinical capacity.

One respondent said: ‘There are a number of areas within the paramedic profession to progress to, such as critical care roles or minor health roles, or management; however, these areas still do not have the same pay scale as other health sectors, meaning progression, while increasing skills, does not increase pay, therefore [it] is seen as a way to gain skills in order to leave to a sector with increased pay.’

However, this was not felt by all, with one respondent highlighting the work that the College of Paramedics has done to outline career pathways:

‘The College of Paramedics (and South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust) has done a lot to develop career pathways. Integration of the out-of-hours providers and the ambulance service would provide even more opportunity for paramedics to progress as well as improving the response times for patients.’

Commenting on the suggestion there are insufficient career progression opportunities within the paramedic profession, Egan said: ‘The College would argue that its career framework sets out the roadmap for career progression and the shortage of opportunities may be a problem to be addressed by the main employers of paramedics.’

As a result of the Government not reviewing the banding system for paramedics, the unions UNISON, GMB and Unite conducted consultative ballots of ambulance staff. The responses indicated that ambulance staff in England will take part in industrial action, including strike action, if the Government continues to not deliver in its promises over pay.

Each union is reporting their ballot results to members, before consulting over the next steps.

Results published by Unite show that 66% of members voted yes to taking strike action and action short of strike action, with a turnout of 31%.

Results from the other two unions have not yet been made public.

A joint statement issued by the unions said:

‘We are clear that ambulance staff have waited for 12 months and are not going to wait longer. If possible, we would also like to avoid a dispute, and the disruption that strike action will bring, however we know that ambulance staff are not prepared to wait indefinitely.

‘We will be calling on Government to make real commitments to ambulance staff, within clear timescales. If there is a genuine will to avert a dispute then we will pause the move to a full industrial action ballot while we hold constructive discussions.’

While the National Ambulance Strategic Partnership Forum have made a formal request to the National Job Evaluation Group to look at the National Job Evaluation paramedic profile, only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics. This includes East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust. There is currently no indication that other services will follow suit.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 1 July 2016.

Quarter of all registered paramedics now members of the College of Paramedics

The College of Paramedics has confirmed it now represents 25% of all Health and Care Professions Council registered paramedics.

Speaking of reaching this important milestone, chief executive Gerry Egan said:

‘I am delighted we have reached the 25% figure. This is an important milestone in the College’s strategic direction, it reflects the growth of the College and the growth in interest from paramedics in how we influence and guide the direction of our profession. Many thanks are due to everybody involved in getting the College to where it is today, including the administrative team at our headquarters, our executive officers, our Council members and, of course, the continued support of our members. We are halfway to achieving one of the requirements to become a Royal College and I am sure it will not be that long before we are knocking on the door of 50%. Everyone can help us on this incredible journey by promoting the College and spreading the good news.’

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 28 July 2015.