Government urged to extend visas for overseas pre-reg pharmacists
The government should extend tier 2 and tier 4 visas for pre-registration pharmacists to ensure enough staff are available during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacy bodies have said.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) wrote a joint letter to home secretary Priti Patel last week (April 23), urging her to extend tier 2 and tier 4 visas for pre-registration pharmacists so that they are on a par with other NHS frontline workers.
The representative bodies said pre-registration trainees are already working throughout the healthcare system to “support patient care” during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“During this time, we ask for the Home Office to help them focus on contributing to the provision of key services, combating coronavirus and saving lives,” they added.
RPS president Sandra Gidley told C+D on April 24 that COVID-19 creates “great uncertainty” for international trainee pharmacists when it comes to their future, as they “will currently have visas aligned to their current pre-registration period”.
“An extension to those pre-registration pharmacists holding a tier 2, 4 or 5 visas is important, as it will entitle them to be able to remain in the UK and complete their training to secure full UK registration as a pharmacist”, she said.
On March 31, the Home Office announced that doctors, nurses and paramedics with visas due to expire before October 1 will have them automatically extended free of charge for one year, so they can focus their efforts on tackling COVID-19.
However, the extension does not include pre-registration pharmacists.
The RPS and BPSA said in the letter that offering a similar visa extension to pre-reg pharmacists is necessary to “maintain the national pharmacy workforce” in this “time of great need”.
“The greatest uncertainty lies with those who currently hold a tier 2 or 4 visa”, the letter added.
“Anxious and stressed”
Matthew Michael, a member of the BPSA Executive, told C+D that the BPSA has received several emails from pre-reg pharmacists feeling “anxious and stressed” due to COVID-19.
“Of those that emailed us, a large proportion were visa holders who had high levels of anxiety due to the delay of the pre-registration assessment until at least late 2020.
“This anxiety and stress was worsened due to the current uncertainty faced with regards to provisional registration,” he said.
Last month, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) revealed that both of this year’s registration assessments will be postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The regulators acknowledged the “significant pressures that pre-registration trainees are currently working under”, highlighting the impact this will have on their ability to prepare for the exams.