Plans to give allied health professionals the ability to prescribe medicines without the input of a doctor will help the NHS develop new models of care, an NHS England official has said.

  • NHS should tap into potential of allied health professionals, says NHS England official
  • New prescribing powers for AHPs will be discussed in the autumn
  • AHP ways of working align with forward view, says Suzanne Rastrick
  • The Patient Safety Congress is on 6-7 July

Suzanne Rastrick, chief allied health professions officer for NHS England, said the health service needed to look beyond the stereotype of a workforce predominantly made up of doctors and nurses and instead embrace what AHPs can offer.

AHPs cover 12 qualified roles including occupational therapists, paramedics, physiotherapists, radiographers and arts therapists. They usually train for 3-4 years and work in acute, community and primary care settings.

Suzanne Rastrick

The NHS needs to look beyond the stereotype of a workforce predominantly made up of doctors and nurses, Suzanne Rastrick said

Speaking ahead of the first dedicated NHS England conference for AHPs today, Ms Rastrick said boosting their powers to prescribe drugs was part of achieving the new care models set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View and could relieve pressure on primary care.

Ms Rastrick trained as an occupational therapist before she became director of nursing at a number of trusts; chief executive of Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole Primary Care Trust. She then led Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group.

She described AHPs as a “hidden profession” and said NHS England was supporting proposals to grant new prescribing powers to radiographers, paramedics, dieticians and orthoptists.

Ms Rastrick, who joined NHS England in September, said: “Physiotherapists and podiatrists can already independently prescribe and we have been leading a piece of work… which has just finished its public consultation for paramedics and radiographers to become independent prescribers, dieticians to prescribe supplementary, and orthoptists with exemptions, which means we can use the workforce in a different way.

“For NHS England as a commissioning organisation this gives a distinct advantage to that workforce out on the ground. It means we can do different and better things for patients and as a commissioner I would clearly support that.”

Following the consultation, hearings are scheduled to take place with the Commission for Human Medicines, which advises ministers on the safety of medicines, in the autumn over legislation to bring in prescribing powers.

She said the new powers would be applied in a similar way to senior nurse practitioners at band 7 and above where staff achieve masters degree level of practice.

Ms Rastrick used the example of primary care where patients could be allowed direct access to physiotherapists for musculoskeletal problems rather than via a GP.

“It would offer a different lens in the treatment we could provide and we know when service users are given that choice they frequently choose AHPs to deliver those services,” she said.

Ms Rastrick said AHPs were already working in local authorities, the private sector and the NHS. She added: “They are working across those organisational boundaries that the [forward view] talks about wanting to cut across and delivering services differently. There is that variety that I want to convey to employers and commissioners.”

According to Health Education England, 7,600 training places for the 12 allied health professions will be commissioned this year. Ms Rastrick said she expected this would have to increase in future.

HEE is adopting a different way of recording the AHP workforce to include all staff registered with a professional body rather than just those working in the NHS. Ms Rastrick said this would help give a more detailed picture of the workforce, which totals around 150,000 staff.

She said: “This is the beginning of change and it is about making sure we commission a workforce that actually respects the commissioning aspirations of CCGs but also the workforce needs of employers.”

“What we are pushing for is a realistic number of commissions based on the data we are now collecting. There will certainly be need for some more, working in different ways, but it’s also about how we reshape the existing workforce.”

The Patient Safety Congress is on 6-7 July