Guest Blog from Professor Karen Middleton, Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
The first physiotherapists have just completed the rigorous training to enable them to independently prescribe medicine to patients.
This is an important moment for our profession – recognition of the skills and expertise held by physiotherapists.
But more importantly, it represents a big step forward for patient care and will bring benefits for people with a whole range of conditions, including asthma, arthritis, stroke and chronic back pain.
The benefits for patients are clear.
It will remove the need for a return visit to their GP or consultant in order for them to get a prescription.
And speeding up access to their medication should mean they get more from their physiotherapy as, for example, the pain-killers allow greater movement of an injured joint.
Since 2005, some physiotherapists have already been able to complete training to become what is known as a supplementary prescriber.
This means they are able to prescribe medicines with the agreement of a doctor and the patient as part of a clinical management plan.
While physiotherapists have seen improvements to care from this work, many have been frustrated that their patients experienced delays in receiving medicines whilst waiting for a prescription to be counter-signed by a doctor.
The new system will remove those delays and improve patient care as a result.
Doctors recognise this, with both the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association welcoming the new responsibilities for physiotherapists.
And there will be broader benefits to the NHS as patients need fewer appointments to get their prescription and – through more effective treatment as a result – do not experience a deterioration in their condition that may require a hospital admission.
There will, of course, be strong safeguards in place to ensure patient safety.
The physiotherapists who take up this new responsibility will be experienced, advanced practitioners who can only prescribe medicines within their range of expertise – respiratory conditions, for instance.
They will have completed a training programme validated by their regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council.
And any prescribing decision will be communicated to the patient’s GP and any other clinicians involved in their care.
There is actually potential for new system to improve safety, as the person prescribing the medicine will be seeing the patient regularly so will be able to monitor progress, ensure compliance with the drug regime, and quickly identify any potential problems.
While training is underway in England, changes to regulations in Wales that will pave the way for independent prescribing are hoped for this year.
Scotland’s changes are expected soon but Northern Ireland has yet to make an announcement.
This new responsibility for physiotherapists is landmark in the development of our profession that will bring broad benefits for patients, doctors and the NHS as a whole.
For more information on independent prescribing, or physiotherapy in general, visit www.csp.org.uk