In February 2020, the government confirmed what Simon Stevens, chief executive at the NHS, had hinted at in September 2019 — the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is considering fast-track courses that would allow pharmacists to retrain as doctors.
The DHSC said it was looking at a “flexible” approach to medical training, which could mean that pharmacists would not have to complete the current standard of 5,500 hours of training, over a minimum of five years, to become a doctor. These requirements are set by the EU, of which the UK is no longer a member.
A statement from the DHSC said that “newly designed courses could take into account existing qualifications, training and experience, making it easier and quicker for existing healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists or pharmacists to train as doctors.”
After Stevens first raised the issue in 2019, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said such training developments could make recruiting pharmacists into primary care networks “even more of a challenge”, and called for a strategic approach to workforce planning to avoid adding to further pressures on front-line staff.
No further details on the training have been released, but The Pharmaceutical Journal wanted to know what its readers thought of the idea. Here is a selection of the responses we received.
“Given that pharmacists are working in GP surgeries, it seems logical that they should be provided with the option of further training. I think this would revolutionise health education and make it fit for the 21st century with an ageing population.”
Shoaib Arif, general practice pharmacist, Worthing, West Sussex
“There are already graduate-level entry programmes to medicine, which are reduced in duration and viewed as ‘fast-track courses’. Therefore I am uncertain how these proposed plans differ for pharmacists. The degree needs to be rigorous to uphold patient safety, and any further shortening may undermine this. Pharmacy is an important part of healthcare. I can’t help but feel that these proposals give an impression of medicine being superior to pharmacy, which was our first choice for a career.”
Nahim Khan, senior lecturer, University of Chester
“I believe that pharmacists who qualify as doctors will be the most complete healthcare professionals, owing to the fact that they will have both medical and pharmacological knowledge at the highest level. I would [take extra training to qualify as a doctor]. After all, most students go into pharmacy to someday help people. I believe that having the training of both a pharmacist and a doctor will result in healthcare professionals that look at problems differently and can draw from knowledge in both fields to offer better solutions.”
Yoanis Tsankov, fourth-year pharmacy student, University of Portsmouth
“As a pharmacist who has been running an independent pharmacy for over 25 years, and seeing lots of changes in this time, I think what would be critical in the transition would be high-quality training and mentoring in real-life situations, and not just passing modules on a course. Pharmacists already have a wealth of knowledge and a base in how medicines work; they could integrate that with diagnostic skills quite effectively.”
Narinder Chahal, pharmacist manager, Staffordshire
“If pharmacists wanted to become doctors they would have done so originally. Pharmacists are in short supply as it is. And if some who could not get into schools of medicine originally now apply, then what happens to the workforce that is now being funded as part of the national contract to run structured medication reviews? Pharmacists have skills that GPs don’t and vice versa — and you cannot make a GP overnight, which I think looks like the aim here.”
Bev Bazant, clinical pharmacist, Gloucestershire
“If a pharmacist, or others, wish to retrain, that could be good for their job satisfaction and career prospects. The negative is that there is a need for pharmaceutical care, which pharmacists in any health setting provide. A reduction of pharmacists in these settings could have a negative effect on patients. There is a need for doctors, but that should not mean that standards for recruitment and training should decline. And a reduction in the pool of pharmacists will also affect patient care.”
Rita Bali, community pharmacist, Peterborough
“I think this is a very good proposal. Pharmacists are highly trained and educated, and many would jump at this opportunity to retrain as doctors. Pharmacists have patient care experience. Many pharmacists feel limited with the amount of time they can spend with their patients and would be very good doctors if allowed to receive additional training.”
Paola Giacomantonio, locum pharmacist, London
“It is clear that the lines between pharmacy and medical professions are becoming increasingly blurred — particularly since the introduction of independent prescribing legislation. Boundaries have historically changed and the morphology of interprofessional collaboration may necessarily lead to amalgamated professions in future.”
Blend Ashtey, clinical pharmacist, London
“I think we, as professional pharmacists, must be very careful not to be used by the government as a quick fix for the needs of the NHS or the government to claim a victory of a political nature. Patient safety and patient-centred care must be at the heart of all we do. Most of us made a conscious decision to be a professional pharmacist, so to twist us just for political gain will be a hard sell.”
Kighir Lam, locum pharmacist, north east England
- On 23 March 2020, this article was updated to correctly attribute comments from Nahim Khan.