The NHS will invest £15.9m over the next four years to improve career development opportunities for pharmacy teams in England, including funding community pharmacists to train as independent prescribers.
In a statement published on 8 November 2021, Health Education England (HEE) said it planned to work with NHS England to “enhance registered pharmacy professionals’ skills, through a range of training and development opportunities”.
These include “training in independent prescribing for pharmacists working in general practice and community pharmacy” and “expanding clinical examination skills training for community pharmacists”.
Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, first hinted at the possibility of funding for independent prescriber training for community pharmacists in May 2021.
This was followed by a contractual agreement between the government and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) in August 2021 for HEE “to provide a three-year programme of education and training for community pharmacy professionals, including independent prescribing training for existing pharmacists”.
The additional funding for independent prescriber training puts community pharmacists in England on similar footing to their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, where the governments have already provided 244 funded training places and 60 funded training places, respectively.
The statement from HEE said that the £15.9m will come from the pharmacy integration fund, which was established in 2016, and will also support “increasing access to educational, prescribing, and clinical supervisors for pharmacy professionals working and training across primary care and community sectors” and on “developing course accreditation processes, to increase access to clinical training courses for pharmacy technicians in primary care”.
The plans “will ensure that pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, their teams and pharmacy services are better equipped to support wider healthcare delivery and provide even safer clinical care to patients,” the statement says.
Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association, welcomed the “new investment in the training and development of community pharmacists and pharmacy technicians”.
“A more level playing field for access to training, regardless of settings, is something that we support,” she said. “We have long argued that the clinical skills and vast experience of community pharmacists should be more widely recognised.”
Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England, said: “Access to training for independent prescribing is vital if pharmacists in England are to work routinely as part of multidisciplinary teams across primary care to extend the provision of clinical services, especially in community pharmacy.
“To make this happen, services need to be put in place as soon as possible so that existing and future prescribers can use their qualifications to benefit patients.”
She added that the RPS has been commissioned by HEE “to develop a primary care credential which will recognise pharmacists working at an advanced practice level”.
Alan Ryan, director of national transformational programmes at HEE, said the investment “in post-registration clinical skills and support will make a big difference to the pharmacy workforce and career development in primary care”.
“The new development programmes are part of a major reform of pharmacy education and training pathways, led by HEE, to respond to the changing nature of patient care and service delivery in the NHS,” he said.
In December 2020, the General Pharmaceutical Council approved new initial education and training standards for pharmacists, which mean all newly qualified pharmacists will become prescribers at the point of registration by 2025/2026.
However, this was met with some concerns for the existing workforce, as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society published a policy document in 2021 warning that existing community pharmacists “must not be left behind”.
Richard Cattell, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, said: “This structured postgraduate development demonstrates our commitment to ensuring existing registered pharmacy professionals have access to the same opportunities for further clinical training including independent prescribing qualifications.”