Physiotherapists and podiatrists working within the NHS are currently adjusting to one of the biggest changes to their method of operating in several years, following the introduction of independent prescribing powers earlier this year.
Introduced by the Department of Health in August 2013, the new legislation saw the UK become the first country in the world in which physiotherapists and podiatrists are able to prescribe medication to their patients without needing to hold further consultations with GPs.
The move was designed to provide physiotherapy professionals with greater autonomy, save time for GPs and offer greater convenience to patients, but in order for this to be achieved, medical staff need to be aware of all of the implications of the new rules - both in terms of the new expectations placed upon them and the long-term changes that could result.
Background and benefits
The independent prescribing laws were granted parliamentary approval in July 2013, following many years of lobbying from industry bodies such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and the College of Podiatry.
The aim of this new legislation is to reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved in providing patients with access to therapies such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents, as doctors will no longer need to counter-sign prescriptions drawn up by physiotherapists who are already supplementary prescribers.
This also facilitates the delivery of care closer to home, making it easier for people to remain in and return to work, while also enabling self-care and self-management of various long-term conditions.
New regulatory requirements
However, it is vital to remember that not all practitioners will be able to make use of these new powers. Those wishing to do so will need to complete a training course approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and will only be able to prescribe medicines relevant to their role.
According to the CSP, it is likely that the changes will be most relevant to advanced practitioners, such as those working in the fields of respiratory, neuro, women's health and chronic pain. Independent prescribers will need to show they have appropriate clinical governance in place and that there is a specific need for this service.
Training is likely to be similar to the courses currently available for those applying for supplementary medicine prescribing status, with several universities offering part-time courses of around six months in length.
Since the validation of appropriate courses by the HCPC takes time, it is expected that the majority of relevant training schemes will become available in early 2014, with the first physiotherapists and podiatrists receiving their qualifications next summer.
The CSP advises that courses will cost at least £2,000 for those who are self-funding, although professionals within the NHS may be paid for by their employer.
Following the announcement of these new regulations for England, the CSP called on medical professionals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to lobby their local MPs to introduce similar measures across the UK.
The Scottish government has subsequently confirmed that progress is being made towards this goal in terms of amending current legislation, with physiotherapist/podiatrist prescribing short conversion programmes set to commence in Scottish universities in January 2014.
It is expected that Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit, ensuring physiotherapists and podiatrists throughout the UK will have access to these new powers and responsibilities within a relatively consistent timeframe.
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