Pharmacist training places to increase by 50% in eight years under NHS workforce plan

NHS England has committed to increasing pharmacist training places to around 5,000 by 2031/2032.
nhs logo on paper

NHS England will increase pharmacy training places by nearly 50% over the next eight years to 2031/2032 “to meet the demand for pharmacy services”, it has said in its long-awaited workforce plan.

The plan also commits to exploring “a shortened medical degree programme” for some existing healthcare professions “such as pharmacists and paramedics” — a suggestion that was first put forward by the NHS in 2020.

The ‘NHS Long Term Workforce Plan’, which was published on 30 June 2023, sets out its commitment to invest £2.4bn in education and training to address the “112,000 vacancies across the NHS workforce” as of March 2023.

According to modelling carried out by NHS England, pharmacist education and training places “are estimated to need to grow by 31–55% to meet the demand for pharmacy services, reaching 4,359–5,174 by 2032/2033”, adding that there were 3,339 training places in 2022.

The plan therefore commits to “increase training places for pharmacists by nearly 50% to around 5,000 places by 2031/2032”.

“To support this level of growth, we will expand training places for pharmacists by 29% to around 4,300 by 2028/2029, starting with initial growth in 2026/2027 when places will increase by 15%,” the plan outlines, adding that “consideration is being given to the potential of a pharmacist degree apprenticeship”.

The plan also states that the NHS would “seek to extend the success of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme”, increasing the number of non-GP staff in primary care networks (PCNs) to “around 15,000” by 2036/2037.

“This expansion would be carefully managed taking into account additional training of pharmacists, to ensure the growth in workforce is sustainable, and considers the additional capacity required to staff roles across primary care,” the plan details.

In April 2023, the government rejected a recommendation made by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee to publish a workforce plan for the pharmacy sector, instead saying it would develop “guidance to support the introduction of shared workforce models between PCN and other pharmacist employers”.

The NHS workforce plan also committed to growing the pharmacy technician workforce “via the apprenticeship route”.

Tase Oputu, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, welcomed the plan.

“With pharmacists delivering more clinical services and with growing numbers of pharmacist independent prescribers, it is really positive to see the plan commit to investing in pharmacy education and training,” she said.

“We all want to see improved support for our workforce so we can keep looking after patients, including steps to recruit and retain pharmacists within the profession. How this plan is put into practice, backed by long-term funding, will be key to its success.”

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “The success or failure of this workforce plan will depend on its implementation.

“NHS England must not repeat previous mistakes — the failure to plan properly for the impact of the ARRS scheme on community pharmacies has been disastrous for many pharmacy owners and we need assurance that pharmacy will not fall through the gaps as systems take on responsibility for workforce planning, including the need for them to work with local pharmaceutical committees in England.”

Box: Independent prescribing

The NHS workforce plan reiterates pharmacy education and training plans for all newly qualified pharmacists to become independent prescribers at the point of registration from 2026.

A letter from David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England published alongside the workforce plan, said the NHS was working on “strategies for increasing access to prescribing supervision.”

This includes “the procurement of 500 training places for Designated Prescribing Practitioner (DPP) supervision skills development in 2023, ensuring the NHS is ready to support and mentor the new workforce of independent prescribers from 2026”.

This comes after pharmacists warned of a shortage of DPPs, partly because the majority of roles are unpaid, making it difficult to justify taking the position.

In March 2023, Health Education England tendered a contract worth £500,000 for a provider to train 500 community pharmacists to become DPPs by the end of March 2024.

A joint statement from Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, and Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, published on 30 June 2023, said: “First announced back in 2021, independent prescribing (IP) changes will create a once in a generation opportunity — the NHS must now be clearer on the opportunities prescribing pharmacists will have in the future. Plans to upskill the existing workforce to become IPs must also gather pace, the need is now and we must work together to realise opportunity.”

  • This article was updated on 30 June 2023 to include additional comment and information
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, June 2023, Vol 310, No 7974;310(7974)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.190127

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