NHS England is looking to increase international recruitment of pharmacists as part of plans to grow the pharmacy workforce, it has said.
Speaking at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress (CPC) in London on 13 May 2023, Leanne Clews, pharmacy dean at NHS England, said that the NHS has “two main priorities” for the pharmacy profession.
“One is to transform the pharmacy workforce [and] one is to increase the pharmacy workforce,” she said.
“We need to look at the education and training pathways that take us into [Overseas Pharmacists’ Assessment Programme] and start to think about how we can increase our international recruitment,” she continued.
“So, we’re working closely with the regulator at the moment to understand what reforms we need, to enable us to enter back into that international recruitment market, so we increase our workforce and then transform that workforce as they start to come through.”
Completion of the OSPAP programme is a requirement for internationally qualified pharmacists from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), who want to join the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register, or for those holding an EEA pharmacy qualification that would not otherwise allow them to join the register.
Pharmacists from EEA nations with relevant European qualifications — listed in directive 2005/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council — can still apply to register with the GPhC and do not need to go through the OSPAP programme.
In December 2022, The Pharmaceutical Journal reported a significant increase in the number of overseas pharmacists applying to work in Great Britain, with 725 applications to the OSPAP in the nine months between 1 March and 8 December 2022, compared with 599 applications for the programme in the 12 months from March 2021 to March 2022.
The increase came after pharmacists were added to the Home Office’s shortage occupation list in March 2021, which makes it easier for internationally qualified pharmacists to successfully apply for a skilled worker visa through the UK’s immigration system.
Speaking at the CPC about recruiting pharmacists internationally, Richard Cattell, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “We don’t think it’s going to have the impact that it’s had in some other profession — particularly medicine — but it will play, we think, in the medium term, an important contribution to the supply workforce.
“Obviously, we need to do that ethically. And think about the reciprocal knowledge transfer that goes with moving people around the globe.”
In January 2022, Health Education England’s Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey revealed that 8% of all full-time equivalent pharmacist posts were vacant in 2021.
However, in April 2023, the government said it did not agree with the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s recommendation for a workforce plan for the pharmacy sector, instead noting that NHS England was “currently developing guidance to support the introduction of shared workforce models between PCN [primary care network] and other pharmacist employers”.
In a statement to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 16 May 2023, the GPhC said it was “reviewing our international routes to registration for all pharmacy professionals that have qualified outside the UK”.
“The purpose of the review is so that we can continue to provide assurance to patients and the public that overseas pharmacy professionals seeking to work in the UK have met the necessary standards and have up-to-date knowledge of practise in the UK,” it said.
“We also want to ensure that the requirements for overseas pharmacy professionals are proportionate, so that those who do meet the necessary standard can register and begin work in the UK as soon as practicable.”
The statement added that the GPhC does “not have a direct regulatory role in workforce planning, but we do work closely with the organisations that lead in this area, including the governments, NHS and strategic education bodies in each of the countries in which we regulate, to make sure we understand the current context and key issues”.
The GPhC said the review will be discussed at a future council meeting and that a public consultation would be held on any proposed changes.
- This article was updated on 18 May 2023 to clarify information about General Pharmaceutical Council registration