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GPhC proposes new three-tier system to register overseas pharmacists

Pharmacists trained in “similar” countries like Australia, New Zealand and Ireland could register after 3-4 months, according to new proposals from the GPhC.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is proposing a radical reform of the registration process for internationally trained pharmacists, it revealed in papers prepared for its council meeting held yesterday (February 22).


Currently, those who have qualified as a pharmacist in a country outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) are subject to a conversion process that takes at least two years.


But now the regulator is planning to introduce a three-route system that promises to dramatically shorten the process needed for many overseas-trained pharmacists to register in the UK. 


Read more: University boosts overseas pharmacist course places by 75% amid huge demand


According to the report by GPhC head of education Damian Day, the “in-principle framework for international pharmacists” comes after sustained “pressure and demand” for places on the overseas pharmacists' assessment programme (OSPAP) and a revision of the initial education and training standards for pharmacists.


The report said that the proposals will address “the current risk” that places on OSPAP courses cannot meet the demand from internationally trained pharmacists who wish to practise in Great Britain.


The papers suggested that the same proposed process will also be applied to pharmacy technicians who were trained overseas.



"More nuanced approach"



According to the council papers, the proposed three-route system is a “a more nuanced approach” that would allow the regulator to “maintain standards and enable people to join the workforce more quickly”.


Central to the three-route system is a classification of countries done by “mapping” according to “similarity”, the report said.


The criteria used are the length of pharmacy education, the “level of academic qualification”, the language of instruction and students’ expected “learning outcomes”, it added.


This system has been designed by a “senior academic from a university currently running the OSPAP”, it said.


Read more: University moots bringing back overseas pharmacist course amid rising demand


Route one would allow pharmacists that qualified in countries with “very similar” pharmacy education systems delivered in English - like “Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland” - to work “under supervision in a [British] pharmacy” for three or four months before taking a practical assessment. 


Route two would apply to pharmacists from EFTA countries, Switzerland and other countries with an education system that is “broadly similar but sometimes with a science bias”, the papers said.


The GPhC said that would-be registrants via this second route would need a longer “adaptation period” and more professional activities assessed.


Read more: ICB planning overseas pharmacist recruitment project to address staffing issues


Route three, for pharmacists from “dissimilar” countries like “India, Pakistan and Nigeria”, would require “an extended period of orientation” for candidate registrants, it added.


A year’s worth of “education and training” is proposed for route three candidates, which would combine study at a university and “in-practice training”, as well as the registration assessment.


A spokesperson for the GPhC told C+D that it hopes to complete the proposals and hold a consultation this year, following approval by the GPhC council yesterday. 


The spokesperson said that countries would be allocated to routes “after a consultation”, adding that the approach is “evidence based” and dependent on “similarity or difference in education and training” and whether this is “delivered in English”.



PDA “concerned”


A spokesperson for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) told C+D yesterday (February 22) that the union is “concerned” that the government “may want to put pressure on regulators to find ways to deliver more registrants more quickly”.


The current health workforce is “not sufficient to meet the demands of the population”, meaning “significant increases to the number of new registrants” are needed to deliver the NHS workforce plan published in June, it added.


“However, standards must never be put at risk and any such pressure must be resisted,” the spokesperson said, stressing that the regulator’s “principal purpose” is to maintain standards to keep patients safe.



OSPAP “capacity reached”



Under the current process, EEA-trained pharmacists can use an automatic registration route - which was set to be withdrawn but has been extended by the UK government “for a further five years from September 2023” - the papers said.


However, most non-EEA prospective registrants must complete a year-long OSPAP, followed by a year’s foundation training in England, Scotland or Wales, before passing the GPhC registration assessment.


Demand for OSPAP places is high - the council papers reported that 1,644 OSPAP applications had been submitted since 2021 and that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the applications were from students that qualified in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.


And the council papers note that the waiting list for people wanting to take an OSPAP course is “several hundred” people long, and that there is a “lack of capacity” among the universities that offer the course.


Read more: 'Oversubscribed': Training places for overseas pharmacist courses full for next two years


Just four universities currently offer the OSPAP: Aston University, the University of Brighton, the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Sunderland.


The University of Hertfordshire’s website warns that “OSPAP 2024 entry interview capacity [is] reached”, while the University of Sunderland states that it is “not currently processing any new applications”.


The regulator’s information page for prospective international registrants also makes it plain that places on OSPAP courses are in “high demand”, with courses starting in autumn 2024 “already oversubscribed”.


In July, C+D exclusively revealed that Aston University had increased OSPAP places by 75% for its 2023/24 intake - from 40 to 70 places - because of “unprecedented demand”.

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