RPS urges new approach for training pharmacists, following reports of pharmacist-to-doctor conversion courses

Comments from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society on new training for foundation pharmacists come after leaked documents suggested that pharmacists may be able to retrain as doctors to boost NHS recruitment in a post-Brexit UK.

Sandra Gidley

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said that it would like to see “a new approach to training early careers pharmacists at foundation level, so that they can take up new roles across the NHS”, following press reports that pharmacists could be given the chance to retrain as doctors.

Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, said the Society would “welcome early discussions with the government, NHS and education leaders to learn more about what changes are being considered”.

Gidley’s comments follow reports of leaked documents that suggest the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is considering boosting NHS recruitment by offering non-medical healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, the opportunity to retrain as doctors through a three-year conversion course. 

The Pharmaceutical Journal previously reported
 that Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, had said at an NHS England conference in September 2019, that pharmacists were to be given the opportunity to become doctors through extra training. At that time, Stevens said that a probable loosening of professional regulatory rules after Brexit would allow pharmacists to undertake additional training to become doctors, adding that this would create “a more flexible, more permeable” NHS organisation. 

Gidley added that “pharmacists are proud of what they do”, saying that the best care for patients came from “making the most of skills from across the health professions as part of a multidisciplinary team”. She also pointed out that ”there is growing demand across the NHS for the expertise of pharmacists, and increasing recognition of their unique skills”.

Gidley warned that with up to 6000 pharmacists needed to support Primary Care Networks (PCNs), any diversion of staff from one profession into another “could make [PCN pharmacist recruitment] even more of a challenge”, adding that the RPS “welcomed discussions on the NHS People Plan, but proposals on retraining have not been part of the conversation to date”. 

A spokesperson for the General Medical Council (GMC), which holds the medical register for doctors in the UK, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the body “would only support changes to medical education which adhere to and enhance the UK’s internationally renowned standards”.

In a statement, the GMC said: “In principle there is an opportunity for us to focus more on the outcomes, which students should demonstrate in order to practise medicine, rather than the current ‘time-served’ approach. It is too early to say what a new approach would look like in practice, but any opportunities must be explored with medical schools, medical royal colleges, devolved administrations and others involved in delivering a sustainable workforce”. 

A spokesperson for the DHSC said it could not comment on leaked documents.

The General Pharmaceutical Council said it had no comment.


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, RPS urges new approach for training pharmacists, following reports of pharmacist-to-doctor conversion courses;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207653

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