How our pharmacy network is developing research opportunities for the profession

Pharmacists in the south west of England have heeded the call for more pharmacy engagement in research by setting up a network to discuss ideas and find collaborators.
An illustration of a connected network of microscrope

Acute workforce shortages are currently making the delivery of pharmacy services in the south west of England particularly challenging. At the same time, there is a national need to increase the engagement of pharmacy staff in research, which has been recognised in various initiatives, including the new National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) ‘research incubator’ for pharmacy professionals. In our experience, it might be possible to address both these issues at once, because a positive research culture can support better recruitment and retention. Therefore, in 2022, we were inspired by the Great North Pharmacy Research Collaborative to establish the South West Pharmacy Research Network.

We provide a forum to discuss ideas, find collaborators and learn — both for practitioners to learn about research methods and researchers to learn about current practice

Development of the network

With advice from our multi-sector steering group, the agreed aim of the new network was to increase pharmacy research activity and the engagement of practising pharmacy staff in research, by acting as a catalyst and linking people, ideas, expertise, institutions and research funding across our region. We provide a forum to discuss ideas, find collaborators and learn — both for practitioners to learn about research methods and researchers to learn about current practice. We then set about developing activities to address these aims before launching in December 2022. Membership grew rapidly and we now have over 200 members from all sectors of pharmacy and across our region.

Given the size of the south west, most of the network’s activities are online. We have a newsletter every four to eight weeks, five or six lunchtime journal clubs each year, occasional webinars and a Microsoft Teams site where members can access resources, ask questions and share ideas.

Our first ‘Innovation Day’

To enable better networking between members, there was also an early desire to hold occasional in-person meetings. A small organising committee therefore planned and delivered our first ‘Innovation Day’ in October 2023. This was funded by a ‘Research Capability Funding’ award from Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board. A total of 44 members attended a variety of sessions, including a panel discussion of pharmacy ‘research journeys’ and workshops on topics such as collaboration, dissemination, project planning and the benefits of research for employers. But the most vibrant parts of the day were the lengthy networking sessions, which were clearly both enjoyed and valuable to delegates.

To share research interests and develop members’ research CVs, we also arranged a digital poster session and awarded prizes in four categories. Poster guidelines were purposefully all-encompassing, encouraging the sharing of audit, quality improvement, service evaluation or research projects at any stage (initial idea through to final conclusions). Delegates’ feedback suggested that the day had been very valuable to them and included various commitments to become more involved in research. We hope this will become an annual event.

Next steps

Following 14 months of work, there is regular interaction between a core group of South West Pharmacy Research Network members, which has led to several markers of success, including members’ successful Health Education England/NIHR ‘Integrated clinical and practitioner academic programme’ funding applications, the identification of research sites and a student project. These are encouraging signs and so our regular activities will continue. We have plans for new projects, including a process to set up research teams to tackle the most important research questions identified by members (for which we have recently received funding). We have also begun to plan our 2024 Innovation Day.

We are discussing how to engage with senior leaders in all relevant organisations to guarantee the long-term success of our work

There are of course challenges that we must address. We will only achieve our aims if we sustain this success in the long term. So with the support of our steering group, we are beginning to consider how to do this as our initial novelty wears off, as all our activities rely on dedicated volunteers who do this in addition to their regular roles. We are therefore discussing how to engage with senior leaders in all relevant organisations to guarantee the long-term success of our work.

Another challenge is to ensure that we engage better with community pharmacy staff and pharmacy technicians from all sectors, as we have only a few members from these groups. Most community pharmacies carry out some form of research and so the network must consider how it can adapt its work to overcome the barriers they face, which typically include lack of time and remuneration. So, while we encourage all pharmacy staff in the south west of England to join the network (it’s free), we’re especially keen to hear from you if you are a pharmacy technician or a community pharmacist. Having more members will help us understand how we can better support you.

The network is still in its infancy, but thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of our members, we hope we can make a small contribution towards the joint challenges of workforce and pharmacy research in the south west of England.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2024, Vol 312, No 7983;312(7983)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.232018

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