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Pharmacists could be fast-tracked as doctors under new government plan

The RPS has warned that the proposal may exacerbate pharmacy staff shortages
The RPS has warned that the proposal may exacerbate pharmacy staff shortages

A government proposal for a conversion course allowing pharmacists to train as doctors to alleviate the NHS workforce crisis has been revealed.

Pharmacists and paramedics may be able to train speedily as doctors as part of a fast-track scheme to make training more “flexible” and resolve the NHS workforce crisis, The Times reported on Friday (January 31).

The UK’s departure from the EU could mean a loosening of the current rules requiring a person to gain a full medical degree to register as a doctor.

The government is likely to put forward that the conversion course could “encourage health staff to progress” and enable those who might find it difficult to go back to university for years to become doctors, the newspaper claimed.

When asked by C+D today (February 3) about the fast-track proposal, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) declined to comment or provide further information at present. However, the DH added that it will provide more information “if and when plans develop”.

RPS: Diverting staff will increase pressures

Diverting pharmacists out of the profession could make workforce issues “even more of a challenge”, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said in a statement on Friday (January 31).

The NHS is already “struggling to recruit into new roles quickly enough” due to the demand for 6,000 new pharmacists to fill primary care network places, she added.

Although the RPS “welcomed discussions” on the NHS people plan,“proposals on retraining have not been part of the conversation to date”, Ms Gidley claimed.

Pharmacists are “proud of what they do”, as part of a “multidisciplinary team”, and there is “growing demand across the NHS for the expertise of pharmacists, and increasing recognition of their unique skills”, Ms Gidley added.

For further on this topic, read locum pharmacist Laura Buckley's reaction to the news, and find out why she is disappointed by the government's proposal.

Would you consider a fast-track conversion course to become a doctor?

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I am sure Doctors will have their own potential concerns if the process was not properly conceived and executed. There is an ample supply of UK pharmacists and too many schools of pharmacy. There is only a shortage of willing fools prepared for the daily stressful slog that CP has now become. I wonder why the corporates want 'apprentices'. It is obvious. Companies have to accept that the gravy train money days are over. They will amalgamate and close branches with more centralisation of dispensing.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Agreed. The only time we will know there is a shortage is when locum rates start going back up to and above 23/24£/hr and salaries in community start to rise again.

There was an article in the PJ, a couple of months back about 'worrying' levels of shortages. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not seeing it, and as another poster above has said, it's all done to 'talk our wages down'.  I do believe too, there is some form of cartel between the 'Big Boys' and supermarkets to get our wages down to around £19/20/hr as that is what I think, that they think we, in community are worth! Which was the locum rate average about 15/16 yrs ago!!  

Personally I am glad that applicants to schools of pharmacy are dropping, it means 6th formers are now actually going and doing work experience and talking to their local community pharmacists and voting with their feet. They have seen the stress, the pressure, the lack of staff, the GPhC hanging over you with a myriad of rules and regulations, and thought, " No thanks!".  And I don't blame them one bit.

The onus is upon companies to make community pharmacy attractive, and that is with better working conditions and better pay.  You can still make money in pharmacy, just not as much as you could 20/25 yrs ago. That's just the way it is. I think the BigBoys are finally realising this now with closing unprofitable branches when other parts of the chain kept them going. 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It's interesting how you say voting with their feet; reading some of the latest articles, that is exactly what is going on! People will naturally go towards the better option for them.

anti-depressed Pharmacist, Manager

This is just a government ploy to bypass the BMA and bring down Doctor's wages, if you support this fast track but oppose the Pharmacist apprenticeship scheme then you are a hypocrite.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Everybody lives in hypocrisy to an extent. Doctors themselves pretending to be all about patient safety. Up their pay, however, and abacadabra their cries stop.

R A, Community pharmacist

I agree and I think RPS is unwilling to support this proposal because double standards come into play. 

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I'm an old dog but can still learn new tricks. However, I'm not certain I want to start training for a job I didn't want 35 years ago only to end up on the bottom rung of a limited career path at 60, being looked down upon by 'real' GPs and [email protected] on TV!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I understand why you wouldn't want to change career after such long service, however, do you feel your opinion might have changed as a fresh Pharmacist just out of University?

Robert Evans, Community pharmacist

The litmus paper test of whether there is a surplus or shortage of pharmacists is current pay rates. Had newly qualified pharamcists salaries increased in line with inflation over the last 10 years we would now be looking at £45,000 (not £35,000). Locum rates would now be £32 per hour plus 45p per mile full mileage (not £20/hr with zero mileage). Conclusion - there is a growing surplus of pharmacists which Sandra Gidley seems to want to talk down. Question - whose interests does she represent? 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Totally agree Robert.  The only shortage is in rural areas of all 4 home countries and the SW and NE of the UK, where there has always been a recruitment problem. I can remember a 'super' pharmacy trying to persuade me to move to Plymouth nearly 25 yrs ago!  

And all the talk of 6000/7000 new jobs in these PCNs, that is still only just over 2 yrs worth of graduates and there are still going to be more closures. I think by 2030 we will have around 10,000 pharmacies in the UK rather than the current 12,000 plus I believe?  

You are spot on with the locum rate figure! ( I had come up with £31!) and taking my manager's salary from 1996 of 30k, using the Bank of England's inflation calculator that would be 55k in today's money. I doubt there are many at the multiples on that. 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Her own. Exactly like all the rest of the motley crew.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Yes. What does a President of the RPS do all day? What is their job description and more importantly how much of our fees are going to her?  Any ideas? More or less than Boris gets???! 

R A, Community pharmacist

Over BMA's dead body! The idea of allowing pharmacists and paramedics to train as doctors will lead to complete chaos. Especially when the quality of pharmacy students graduating has dropped. This is a really bad idea! It almost sounds very similar to the pharmacist apprentice scheme! I can see doctors having the same reaction as pharmacists did when we heard the pharmacist apprentice scheme. 

R A, Community pharmacist

I also forget to mention will this lead to an MBBS/MBChB qualification for those doing this conversion course? Or whatever the qualification the person gets can this person move abroad and will other countries accept them? If not it might just be a very ristrictive qualification only appropriate in UK.

For example we have many refugees in the UK who are medically qualified doctors in their own countries. However due to the question of quality of medical education of their home country its not easy to convert it to a medical license in UK. 

In the USA a foreign doctor has to jump through so many loops before they can get a license. This idea is politically motivated.

Sunil Kumar, Community pharmacist

Very good opportunity for pharmacists keen to progress .... 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Definitely a new avenue to explore. To me, it appears like accepting pass qualifications as recognised prior learning, something that is done in the education sector quite frequently.

Taranpreet Mundae, Locum pharmacist

Totally agree. 

Farmer Cyst , Community pharmacist

There are way too many pharmacists. This nonsense about 'Pharmacists shortages' has been paraded about by contractors who just want to reduce our wages further by flooding the market with substandard 'Pharmacists' so they can increase their profits further by reducing our wage.

Over the last 30 years our rates have decreased by 40% - 50%. Do not let this nonsense of 'shortages' convince you that we need more Pharmacists. We do not.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I would argue the need for dispensers is more prevalent. I've visited a large number, well into the triple figures, of pharmacies over the last two years, and I would confidently say most of them were looking for more staff.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

That's the bs they keep churning out. Sadly some actually believe it. 

Keith McElrea, Pharmaceutical Adviser

There's already a pharmacist shortage crises in many parts of Scotland, as the NHS have employed them in their droves over the last few years. At one point Greater Glasgow NHS (One region) was advertising for more pharmacists that both Scottish Schools of Pharmacy were putting out in the same year. Now they want to make some more GPs!

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

I think the problem is that

1) prospective students heard how tough things are in Community Pharmacy and stopped going for Pharmacy

2) the Pre Reg pass rate has dropped a little

3) the NHS is recruiting Pharmacists of the "clinical" persuasion and taking them out of the workforce.

4) many Pharmacists have left for easier/more lucrative pursuits

all this means that there is a bit of a squeeze either here now or forseen.

C D, Community pharmacist

Surely it would make more sense for the government to work out what skills pharmacists currently have and then allow them to prescribe for those conditions to NHS patients. We could come up with a name for it if we think really hard. Something like... a Minor Ailments Service? :-)

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I could perhaps see pharmacists being trained to be GPs, on some sort of level but thats about it. And I think that would still have to be a version of the GEM 4 yr course. I couldn't see them, for example, being trained to be consultant psychiatrists! There is a reason for the long training and that's because there is so much to learn! If we could train Drs quicker, then of course the government would do it.  

I know of a colleague's nephew who did the 4 yr fast track GEM 'graduate entry medicine' course, and she said " Boy, they work them hard!" I think they don't have a spare minute to breathe!

The main problem is, we have had a shortage of Drs for years, and governments of the last 25 or so yrs have known of when cohorts of GPs will retire, and I think due to the BMA and GMC, they have resisted new medical schools opening in huge numbers like happened with pharmacy as they like to keep a bit of a shortage to keep their salaries high. And of course, it is easier for us to 'steal' Drs from poor countries than train our own, which I think is an awful thing to do.

I cringe when I hear people talking about how the NHS would collapse without foreign staff. Personally, I think that isn't something we should be proud of, stealing Drs from poor countries. If the best people keep leaving then those countries will always be poor or at a disadvantage. Look at some of the schemes EU Eastern block countries are coming up with to keep people from emigrating, everything from tax rates lowered to paying those who have more children. 

R A, Community pharmacist

Its not stealing when these doctors cant make a living in their home country kind of like the position pharmacists find themselves in within UK. Many are greatful they can emigrate for a better life. From my understanding the medical degree is often funded privately by individuals themselves so they should be entitled to move wherever they want. 

Bob Dunkley, Locum pharmacist

Ms Gidley et al should make their minds up about pharmacy staffing levels. Not so long ago they were bemoaning the fact that any university that could was setting up a pharmacy department with the concommitant rise in the numbers of pharmacists in the workforce. Now the government is proposing a scheme to take pharmacists and train them as doctors and they are still moaning. "Diverting pharmacists out of the profession could make workforce issues “even more of a challenge”" Will they make up their minds, either there are too many pharmacists or there isn't. I see this initiative as a  very worthwhile scheme, my only worry is that the products of the scheme will be seen by "proper" doctors as second class.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I think there is a simple question to ask, that is never clarified in straightforward terms:

How many people does it take to run a pharmacy safely and effectively?


Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

It depends whether you take account of the 'busybodies' coming up with great but unfunded ideas to enhance your so-called status or those who come along with some regulatory function.

Keith McElrea, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I think the simple answer is it depends where you are.  If youre in Northern Ireland there are too many, which is why locum rates there are down to £14 ph in the latest payment survey.  In rural Scotland its £24 often with mileage and accomodation to pay on top of that when you're stuck and have to bring someone in from the city.

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