Proposals for changes to legislation, announced by Ministers on July 24, 2012, will mean podiatrists could be granted independent prescribing responsibilities for the first time in order to help improve the patient pathway. This will increase access and speed of treatment for patients with conditions which affect the foot, ankle and associated structures.
Amendments to the Medicines Act (1968) are expected to be laid before Parliament in Autumn 2012. If agreed, registered podiatrists will be able to undertake newly developed education programmes. Upon successful completion of the programme podiatrists will have their entry on the HPC register annotated to indicate they are able to independently prescribe. This will mean that rather than having to refer patients to other health care professionals such as GPs for prescriptions, podiatrists will be able to prescribe relevant medicines and help reduce any delays in treatment.
Podiatrists practice both privately and within the NHS, dealing with the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of feet and the lower limb. There are an estimated 11.2 million patient visits to a podiatrist each year, for a range of conditions such as, arthritic disorders in the lower limb, infections of the feet and sports injuries. The new legislation will particularly benefit people with diabetic infections of the feet, acute infections such as wounds and ingrown toe nails, rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis of the foot and ankle, and dermatological conditions of the feet such as fungal infections, who will now be able to receive medicines, if required, more promptly.
There are 2.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and an estimated 850,000 people who have it but don’t know it. Diabetes results in complications such as neuropathy (reduced feeling and numbness) and increased risk of infection in the feet. People with diabetes are recommended to have an annual foot check and the podiatry profession plays a key role in managing and treating diabetes symptoms in the feet. Antibiotics to treat infection are one of the medicines independent prescriber podiatrists will be able to prescribe.
Arthritis is also on the rise, with 60% of cases in the feet, and medicines will be able to be prescribed by podiatrists to treat it.
Alan Borthwick from The College of Podiatry and Senior Lecturer and Professional Lead (Podiatry) from the University of Southampton said: “These planned changes to legislation will mean that patients will be able to receive more prompt and better access to treatment, helping to reduce the pressure on other health care professionals. It will provide the podiatry profession with greater flexibility to prescribe and supply appropriate treatment to meet individual patient needs.”
Podiatrists have a long history of post-registration education and training in access, supply and administration of prescription only (and pharmacy only) medicines. Approval for use of local anaesthetics agents was provided to the profession in 1980 and since 2005 podiatrists have had supplementary prescribing responsibilities under The Medicines for Human Use (Prescribing) Order 2005 (SI No 765). Pharmacology also forms part of the pre-registration podiatry qualification.
Alongside podiatry, the planned changes would also give physiotherapists independent prescribing responsibilities Health care professions, in addition to medical doctors, that have independent prescribing responsibilities include nurses, pharmacists and optometrists.