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Will independent prescriber changes leave trainee pharmacists behind?

Trainee pharmacist Manjot Kaur considers whether General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) independent prescriber changes will leave trainees who graduate before 2026 behind

There is ever-increasing demand for more clinicians from various backgrounds working in patient-facing roles. Health Education England (HEE) has therefore shown support in expanding the role of primary care pharmacists.

As there is a shortage of independent prescribers across the country, the GPhC has led a number of consultations looking at whether the process of transitioning pharmacists into prescribers to be sped up.

Despite this, those graduating with an independent prescribing qualification after 2026 will be ill-prepared to use it in a clinical setting until a large portfolio is built showing experience, confidence and sound clinical decision making over years of experience rather than just from learning during their degree.

Although independent prescribers are not currently central to pharmacy practice, the GPhC is hoping this shift will happen in the next decade. However, what about those who are not independent prescribers yet?

Those of us, like myself, who have graduated this year, will be training as foundation trainee pharmacists during this interim period and will be feeling left behind.

We understand the GPhC has helped us become able to train as independent prescribers sooner than we would have by removing the two-year requirement in the prescribing standards that are set out before we can join a course.

Read more: GPhC scraps 2-year experience rule for independent prescribing training

However, we are still lacking support as we will be seeking additional training in order to obtain independent prescriber status. This comes with an extra effort to find a designated prescribing practitioner independently with over three years’ experience and who will spend a minimum of 90 hours with us.

The large course fees are another obstacle to us obtaining independent prescriber status, despite HEE bidding for a contract to provide 3,000 more funded places for September 2022 to March 2023.

Another huge challenge is that it is incredibly difficult to obtain a place funded and offered by HEE due to the large amount of competition. Only 327 pharmacists got the chance to obtain a funded independent prescribing training place for courses in the first six months of 2022.

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

Lastly, time is a huge issue as it is difficult for community pharmacists with families and other commitments to take time off to study and work. As a result, my peers and I find it difficult that accommodations are not being made to ensure we are not being left behind.

Understandably, the GPhC would like to increase the number of independent prescribers by building their skills earlier in their career during this interim period.

However, are we potentially jeopardising patient safety by reducing the time taken to become an independent prescriber, which usually happens seven to eight years from the start of an individual beginning their MPharm?

The two-year requirement was put in place to ensure professionals had the knowledge to safely practice prescribing once they had gained experience. There is arguably a risk of leaving scope for prescribing errors by enrolling inexperienced pharmacists onto the course.

The majority of community pharmacists in the UK are dispensing while also providing essential NHS and advanced services, which is acceptable.

However, those with a prescribing qualification can conduct community pharmacy-based independent prescribing services privately. This does not help with the NHS’s stresses surrounding the issues with a lack of clinicians in patient-facing environments, as this private service results in the patient having to pay outside of the NHS system.

So, I do understand that current pharmacists without an independent prescriber status and those of us in the interim period still have great difficulties in obtaining the qualification.

The GPhC needs to do more to overcome these hurdles by bridging these issues to make it easier for us and future cohorts of graduates prior to 2026 become safely qualified.

Manjot Kaur is a trainee pharmacist at Chemycare Pharmacy in Birmingham

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