The role of pharmacists in the PCN revolution

By Ravi Sharma (Director for England, RPS) and Graham Stretch (Clinical Director, Brentworth PCN and Vice President, Primary Care Pharmacy Association)

The NHS in England is set for transformation as the Long Term Plan is put into place over the next decade to ensure the NHS is fit for purpose in the future.

The Plan’s key aims are to:

• ensure everyone gets the best start in life,
• deliver world class care for major health problems
• and support people to age well

NHS England/Improvement makes a clear commitment that “Pharmacists have an essential role to play in delivering the Long Term Plan”, demonstrating greater ambition for the profession than we have seen in previous policy initiatives.
While ambitious in its nature, there’s still a lot to be worked out about how the plan will be implemented across England.

For many years, pharmacists have been working collaboratively with healthcare professionals across primary care settings such as general practice, care homes and community pharmacy. The number of pharmacists working within PCNs is set to expand, with potentially more than 5000 new roles developing across England.

So, what’s the role of pharmacists within the PCNs?

Put simply, it’s to work as part of a multidisciplinary team in patient facing roles. Pharmacists working within PCNs will either be prescribers, or training to become prescribers. Their main roles will be:

• Patient facing clinical roles using their expert knowledge on medicines
• Patient facing clinical roles using their expert knowledge on medicines
• Providing leadership on person-centred medicines optimisation through Structured Clinical Medication Reviews. These will focus on medicines safety, particularly in high risk groups such as the frail elderly; inappropriate polypharmacy overprescribing; looking after patients with renal or hepatic impairment or high-risk medicines, substance misuse and those people with recurrent hospital admissions related to medicines.
• Supporting people with long term conditions
• Developing safer prescribing systems and identifying high risk people and supporting them using the principles of shared-decision making
• Improving antimicrobial stewardship
• Supporting care homes
• Supporting the health and social care needs of patients to tackle health inequalities.
• Data driven care approach to identifying people who would benefit from care planning
• Building and developing relationships across PCNs, health and care social systems and other pharmacy teams, for example mental health, hospital and community pharmacy teams.

PCN pharmacists will have a crucial role in improving patient care and safety while being able to showcase the value of what the profession brings to the public, wider healthcare system and to other healthcare professionals.

General practice will be at the centre of PCNs, but the NHS Long Term Plan makes clear pharmacists do not need to be employed directly by GP practices or PCNs. This opens doors to new ways of providing care that involve pharmacists across the NHS, including community and hospital colleagues. It’s vital that all pharmacists have the opportunity to get involved with their local PCN.


For further information:

  1. Information on what NHS England view on the role of PCN pharmacists can be found here
  2. Read our A Systems Approach to Medicines Optimisation and Pharmacy toolkit for anyone interested in how to work with their local health and care systems such as PCNs.
  3. The Primary Care Pharmacy Association has a webpage devoted to PCNs where the association’s ‘Vision’ is available with further details of how we envision the role of pharmacists in networks.

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