Responding to COVID-19 means many registrants are expected to work in new roles. These roles may come with new responsibilities around the sale, supply, administration or prescription of medicines.
The Standards of conduct, performance and ethics states:
You must keep up to date with and follow the law, our guidance and other requirements relevant to your practice.
Which professions are entitled to sell, supply, administer and prescribe medicines is set out in law. The key pieces of legislation are:
- The Medicines Act 1968
- Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001
- The Human Medicines Regulations 2012
These restrictions have not changed in light of COVID-19. It is therefore important that registrants and employers are aware of these laws, and that the pressures of COVID-19 do not prevent registrants from practising in line with these.
This information aims to support registrants to understand their medical entitlements, so they can establish whether or not they are practising in line with the law. You should read this information sheet alongside our other pages on applying the standards in response to COVID-19.
This information may also be helpful for COVID-19 temporary registrants. Please note, temporary registrants will be able to access their profession’s medical entitlements as normal, with the exception of annotations (such as prescribing rights). More information is available on the FAQs for temporary registrants page.
Overview of medicines and prescribing rights
The easiest way to check which medical entitlements you have is to review our table of medicines and prescribing rights for our registered professions.
There are several different rights, each set out in turn below:
The law allows certain medicines to be administered by injection in an emergency, in order to save a life. This exemption applies to anyone, regardless of their profession.
A list of medicines subject to this exemption can be found in Schedule 19 of the Human Medicines Regulation 2012.
If your employer has policies or procedures around this exemption, we expect you to follow them.
This is a signed and written instruction by a prescriber to another professional to supply / administer medicine to a named person.
Any professional can do this, provided they have the right training and are under the instruction of a prescriber.
Further information on PSDs can be found on the NHS Specialist Pharmacy Service website.
This is a written instruction for the supply / administration of medicines to a group of service users by a named health professional.
A PGD must be authorised by a health authority, special health authority, NHS trust / foundation trust or primary care trust. Only certain professions can administer under PGDs.
Chiropodist / Podiatrists, Orthoptists and Paramedics have exemptions in law which allow them to sell, supply and / or administer certain medicines in particular scenarios.
Detail of the exemptions for Chiropodist / Podiatrists and Paramedics is set out on the MHRA website.
Orthoptists must complete approved education and training and be annotated on the Register. Further detail is set out in our Standards for orthoptists exemptions.
To be a prescriber means to have the legal authority to issue prescriptions. There are two types of prescribing – independent and supplementary.
An independent prescriber is able to prescribe on their own initiative any medicine within their scope of practice and relevant legislation, whilst a supplementary prescriber is a voluntary partnership between a doctor or dentist and a supplementary prescriber to prescribe within an agreed service user-specific clinical management plan (CMP).
Only some of our professions can train to become prescribers – this is set out in law. To become prescribers, registrants in these professions have to complete an approved education programme. Further detail is set out in our Standards for prescribing.
Please note, COVID-19 temporary registrants will not be able to receive annotations and therefore are unable to gain prescribing rights. Instead, these registrants will need full registration with HCPC. More information is available on the FAQs for temporary registrants page.
Controlled drugs are subject to additional legal controls as they carry a higher risk of being misused or causing harm. You can find a list of controlled drugs commonly encountered in practice on the Home Office website.
There are certain restrictions on who can administer controlled drugs under PGDs. More information is set out on the Specialist Pharmacy Service website.
There are also restrictions for prescribers.
Supplementary prescribers can prescribe controlled drugs, but only in accordance with a service user’s clinical management plan. Independent prescribers cannot prescribe controlled drugs unless extra laws have been passed which allow their profession to do so.
Currently, chiropodist / podiatrist and physiotherapist independent prescribers can prescribe certain controlled drugs. A list of these is set out on our medicines and prescribing rights page.
Registrants with medical entitlements may be deployed to support the NHS role out COVID-19 vaccines. We have created an advice page for registrants setting out what you need to know.
Vaccines are prescription-only medicines, so there are certain legal controls on who can and cannot prescribe, supply and administer these.
The most common ways vaccines are administered is via Patient Group Directions (PGDs). However, vaccines are also administered via Occupational Health Schemes.
The Government has recently expanded which professions can administer under occupational health schemes to include ODPs, paramedics and physiotherapists. More information is set out on our vaccines advice page.
Public Health England have also published a national protocol for the administration delivery of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which allows for non-registered health professionals to administer the vaccine under the supervision of an experienced registered health professional. Further detail, including a link to this, is available on our vaccines advice page.
Training and support
Like any part of your scope of practice, you will need to ensure you have the appropriate training and support to work with new medicines. You can read more about assessing your scope of practice and establishing training needs in our scope of practice information page.
Impact of COVID-19 on medical entitlements
Even during COVID-19, the laws surrounding medical entitlements still apply. Registrants will therefore still need to practise within the limits set out in law.
To support the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, the Government amended to law to allow more professions to use occupational health schemes and issued a national protocol which allows further professions to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the Government does not plan to expand further medical entitlements, such as which professions can prescribe or use PGDs.
Extending the rights of our professions is not governed by HCPC, although we do work closely with the professions to support this. As it requires a change in law, it needs approval by Government. If you are concerned about the current medical entitlements of your profession, you should reach out to your professional body and local MP to make a case for changing the law.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for regulating medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK. If you have specific queries about particular medicines or your profession’s rights, you can speak to them.
More detail on the medicines and prescribing rights of our professions, including other related links, can be found on our medicines and prescribing rights page.
Finally, you can find further advice and support by visiting your professional body’s website. You can find details of the professional bodies for our registrants here.