A consultation has been launched on plans to give pharmacy technicians more power in a move that is aimed at ultimately freeing up capacity in general practice.

Currently, preparing, dispensing or selling prescription drugs can only be carried out by a pharmacist or under a pharmacist’s supervision.

The proposed rule change, which forms part of the Government’s Primary Care Recovery Plan, would mean pharmacists could authorise registered technicians to carry out tasks such as preparing medicines within manufacturing units and handing out prescription drugs in retail pharmacies.

Health minister Andrea Leadsom said giving technicians more power would free-up pharmacists’ time for other duties, such as providing advice on contraception or common conditions, as well as carrying out blood pressure checks, “rather than patients having to book an appointment at a general practice”.

She added: “This is about making the most of the talents of our excellent and highly trained pharmacy staff, to benefit them and their patients, and improve service delivery more generally.

“By giving pharmacy technicians the chance to use their skills in a safe way and take on more responsibility for dispensing, pharmacists will have more time to carry out the clinical assessments they are trained to do.”

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) there are more than 67,000 pharmacists registered in the UK.

It added the plans “represent a significant shift in how medicines dispensing is supervised and help make pharmacy services more efficient and fit for the future”.

A joint statement from the four chief pharmaceutical officers of the UK said the plans “will improve future patient care” by “making appropriate, safe and productive use of pharmacy technicians’ knowledge and skills”.

It added: “Recognising and more effectively using the skills of pharmacy technicians will enable pharmacists to spend a greater proportion of their time delivering patient-facing clinical services – using their training and expertise, including prescribing, to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and local communities.

“This will improve career progression for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and ensure they are using their training and skills to contribute to the best of their professional ability as part of the NHS team.”

The consultation process is expected to last 12 weeks.

The Primary Care Recovery Plan will also aim to end the “8am scramble” for a GP appointment by upgrading the phone systems in surgeries.

The switch has been backed by a £240 million investment and is expected to go live in March 2024.

Elsewhere, there will be a consultation on giving dental hygienists the power to administer certain medicines without the need for a prescription to improve access to dentistry in England.