In a letter to registered pharmacists in the country last week (February 17), Cathy Harrison said the “long anticipated and essential” amendments “mark a fundamental and exciting shift towards clinical practice for pharmacists”.
Under the new initial education and training standards for pharmacists approved by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on January 26, the pre-registration year will be integrated into the MPharm course, resulting in a five-year training and education period ending with a foundation year.
Following that final year, graduates will automatically become qualified as independent prescribers. Currently, registered pharmacists must sit a further course for this qualification.
“While still retaining sufficient scientific training to support rational and logical thinking, the changes to the standards will help to generate new cohorts of pharmacists with enhanced clinical skills, developed across an improved five-year continuum of training before registration, satisfying the ever increasing demand for high quality pharmacy professional skills from patients and the health service,” Ms Harrison wrote in the letter.
PSNI said it “undertook extensive joint consultation” with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), including a public consultation in 2019, before finalising and approving the reforms. The GPhC approved similar plans in December.
An implementation group has been established to complete the reforms in Northern Ireland, but they will be introduced in a “phased approach”, starting in July 2021, for those finishing their four-year MPharm degree and entering into their fifth year of education, PSNI explained.
Dr Jim Livingstone, PSNI council president, said the “exciting” new reforms “will equip the pharmacy profession to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving healthcare system and ever-changing patient need”.
Need for a “realistic” transition period
Responding to the GPhC’s approval of similar plans, the Pharmacy Schools Council (PhSC) welcomed the integration of the pre-reg year into the MPharm course and the move towards independent prescribing upon registration.
However, it warned that there “remain challenges that must be recognised and addressed, including the need for a realistic transition programme until steady state is achieved, the scale of change within the foundation year that will need the engagement of all stakeholders, the need to imbue all years of the degree with independent prescribing attributes and, of course, the need for these ambitious changes across the first five years of education to be properly funded”, the PhSC said at the time.
“Nevertheless, we feel that the new standards do represent a significant step,” it added.
Kathryn Burnett, professor of pharmacy education at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, told C+D that the institution will not be implementing the new curriculum for another two years. However, “I don’t see any major hurdles in implementing this [curriculum]”, she said.
“We’ve been through this period of change before, and I think it’s a positive step for the profession, so we’re happy to do our bit to support the new curriculum changes,” Professor Burnett said. “It’ll be a great opportunity for our pharmacists at the other end.”
A five-year MPharm course, which includes pre-reg training, is currently offered by several higher education institutions. However, this course is aimed primarily at international students wishing to retain their student status in the UK.