There were 39 out of 70 (55%) places filled on the first year of a Health Education England (HEE)-funded mental health training programme for pharmacists.
The ‘Specialist mental health pharmacist training pathway’ was run as a pilot in 2022/2023, to provide advanced training to pharmacists employed in new roles in community mental health hubs or primary care teams.
Following the 12-month scheme, with a cohort of 50 pharmacists, HEE announced in February 2023 that the pathway, run at the University of Bradford, would be funded for a further two years with 70 places available each year.
However, the university has confirmed that only 55% of places were taken up for 2023/2024.
Traditionally, mental health pharmacists have mainly worked in secondary care, but the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan 2019/2020 – 2023/2024, published in January 2019, committed to creating 260 new pharmacy posts in adult mental health community care settings by March 2024.
“There’s been an untapped area where pharmacy has not historically been involved in community mental health team hubs,” Diane Webb, associate professor at the University of Bradford and the project lead told The Pharmaceutical Journal.
“The reason for this training is to ensure that pharmacists working in these new roles are empowered and able to deliver expert medicines optimisation to their patients,” she said.
Webb said she believed the reason for the low number of applications for the 2023/2024 training was that NHS trusts are still in the process of creating and recruiting for the new community mental health pharmacist roles.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get some more students in the next couple of years,” she said.
“I suspect that the new roles haven’t been created yet and they also struggle to recruit in some areas.
“The NHS has been significantly under-resourced for years when it comes to mental health services. I feel like the NHS is catching up now and acknowledging the importance of support for mental health. Certainly, the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan is a way of starting”.
The College of Mental Health Pharmacy (CMHP) works with the University of Bradford to accredit the training pathway.
Karen Shuker, president of CMHP, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “Pharmacists working in community mental health teams are still low in number compared to those working within in-patient settings and so this may explain the relatively low numbers accessing the training so far.
“Some pharmacists within community mental health teams may already be experienced specialists and so may not require this training. Furthermore, funding for community mental health transformation as per the long-term plan was not ringfenced for pharmacists, despite the target number of 260 in post by March 2024, and so it is possible that funds were not directed towards creating the new community mental health pharmacist posts.”
There are 70 places available for the 2024/2025 training pathway, which is due to start in April 2024, with applications open for pharmacists working in community mental health teams until 22 February 2024.
The Pharmaceutical Journal contacted NHS England for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.