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Is getting an independent prescribing qualification worth it?

More needs to be done to make gaining an independent prescribing qualification viable for community pharmacists, says Nana Ofori-Atta

Is getting an independent prescribing qualification worth it? This has and will be the big question on a lot of pharmacists’ minds these days. The requirement to gain such a qualification has been a theme of many conversations within the community pharmacy sector and the wider pharmacy family.

Getting an independent prescribing qualification has  sometimes been a requirement within hospital roles, some clinical commissioning group roles and recently as part of primary care network (PCN) roles for pharmacists. However, the need to be a prescriber within community pharmacy is a recent one.


Read more: RPS Scotland wants all patient-facing pharmacists to prescribe by 2030


During C+D’s latest Big Debate – hosted on the C+D Community last week (February 16) – Nicholas Haddington from Health Education England (HEE) said that an increase in prescribers would “help the NHS meet urgent demand for increased clinical skills for clinical care, prevention of ill-health and optimal outcomes from medicines in all NHS settings and at home”.

He pointed out that all new pharmacists joining the register will have an independent prescribing qualification by summer 2026.

During their training, these students will benefit from “increased experiential learning opportunities during all five years”, which will help with their professional judgement, risk management and diagnostics, among other factors, he said.

So, this begs several questions; how as a community pharmacist already working in the sector can I gain an independent prescribing qualification? If all newly qualified pharmacists are going to graduate with one, how do I not get left behind? How do I even start to think about getting qualified and what are the obstacles I need to overcome?


Getting started


Firstly, before you even start looking for a university that offers the qualification, you will have to figure out a way of paying for it. Nowadays, thanks to funding being made available from HEE, community pharmacists can be eligible to get funding for a course. But let’s not forget there are hundreds of pharmacists who, over the years, have had to pay out of their own pockets for the same training, or who have left the community sector to take on roles in hospitals, PCNs and other clinical settings in order to get funding.


Read more: More than 300 funded independent prescribing places announced in England


But let’s say that you are successful. Now you have the funds, and you’ve chosen a university at which to start your learning. Here comes one of the biggest challenges – finding a designated prescribing practitioner (DPP). This is a practising prescriber with over three years' experience in prescribing, who is willing to spend a minimum of 90 hours in practise with you.

While there are amazing DPPs out there willing to put in the required commitment, there are simply not enough of them out there to fulfil the need for all graduates and legacy pharmacists to gain an independent prescribing qualification. The solution given is usually a promise that the more independent prescribers who get trained, the more DPPs we will create. But without an incentive or mandating for DPPs, what is their continued motivation to take on this role?


What next? 


On the off chance that you can obtain funding, find a university, and have a DPP in place, you will now encounter the biggest challenge in obtaining the independent prescribing qualification as a community pharmacist, which is finding the time.

Without the support of your employer or the ability to take time off to complete workshops, study days and practise sessions, it is damn near impossible to find the time to work and study at the same time. Unfortunately, not enough contractors or owners see enough benefit in having an independent prescriber pharmacist to allow you to time to study during work, so this leaves you with having to study in your own time and on your own dime in some instances.


Read more: ‘From community pharmacy to primary care – why I made the move’


Finally, let’s say you can overcome all the above obstacles and you have gained your independent prescribing qualification. I will say there are some amazing prescribing trailblazers out within community doing amazing things – but unfortunately these are few and far between. The majority of community pharmacies are still running a dispensing service with the attached NHS services and I’m afraid to say that unless the NHS is willing to make using independent prescribing services within the community a more viable option, this is hardly going to change.

Currently, all community pharmacy-based independent prescriber services are private, which does very little to reduce the burden on GPs and NHS services as it requires the patient to pay. Compare this to other parts of the UK such as Scotland and Wales, where community pharmacists have been using their independent prescribing qualification in integrated services.

So, is an independent prescribing qualification worth it? Yes, absolutely. But a lot more needs to be done for community pharmacy contractors to help and encourage them to prepare their branches to accommodate independent prescribing pharmacists. Otherwise, this will just be another reason for pharmacists to leave community pharmacy to find other roles where they can use their skills.


Nana Ofori-Atta is clinical and custom content editor at C+D


Catch up on The Big Debate: Is getting an independent prescribing qualification worth it? on the C+D Community and add your own views

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