Practice-based commissioning is opening up more opportunities for pharmacists, NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon told the delegates at the National Primary Care Prescribing Advisers conference this week.

PBC is one of the government’s key healthcare reforms, under which practices have a budget to commission their own services, the idea being that this will deliver higher quality care direct to local communities.

According to Dixon, pharmacists have proved their worth as primary care trust prescribing advisers “over and over again”, and he claims that GP practices and practice-based commissioning groups are now beginning to employ their own pharmacists too.

“It is a trend that is growing fast. With 15% of the average practice budget spent on prescribing, it is easy to see why. Their role goes far beyond making sure the budget is well spent,” Dixon said. “They have a significant part to play in reducing emergency admissions, improving the management of patients with long-term conditions, and supporting PBC priorities,” he added.

He went on to say that PBC is about doing more in primary care, which basically means further stretching the healthcare workforce. But Dixon claims that, through services such as medication reviews and anti-coagulation monitoring, pharmacists are helping to reduce the workload on practice staff, “freeing up time to focus on service redesign and making sure PBC works effectively.”

GP a 'multi-professional' operation

“General practice is no longer one doc and his dog. It is a multi-professional team operation,” he stressed, and concluded: “Pharmacists are vital members of that team who have an important role in delivering the best possible healthcare to our patients.”

The NHS Alliance is working hard to help facilitate the use of PBC. Earlier this year, the group announced a new partnership with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca to support the development of its Practice-Based Commissioning Federation, created to back up frontline commissioners.

Under the collaboration, a PBC “flying squad” is being planned to offer practical and focused support to commissioners on the frontline where help is most needed. This will be based on work already underway to support both practice-based commissioners and primary care trusts, to assess what is needed for effective commissioning of care and link up existing resources and demand, the NHS Alliance said.

This week, the NHS Alliance and the Primary Care Pharmacists' Association have published a new guide for frontline practice-based commissioners, called Prescribing Support and Prescribing Advice for Practice Based Commissioners – A guide for commissioning groups and GPs.