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Wanted: young pharmacists to shape the future

NHS England’s Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer explains why the search is on for ‘early career’ pharmacy professionals: 

The expectations of and opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to support patients and their safe and effective use of medicines have never been greater.

That’s why it is essential that our future pharmacy leaders help shape this by responding to the NHS workforce consultation. 

I’ve been a pharmacist for more years than I care to remember, and in that time the practice of pharmacy has changed dramatically. When I qualified people went into community or hospital practice with a few venturing into industry or academia.

Now, as with other healthcare professions, there is a multitude of other options and career paths for pharmacists, which can only be a good thing. The rise of pharmacists in general practice, care homes, urgent and emergency care settings, CCGs and many others has meant that the demands on pharmacists’ skills are now much more varied.

And we mustn’t forget the increasingly important role pharmacy technicians are now playing in delivering care, not simply to support pharmacists, but as clinical practitioners in their own right. Since becoming a registered profession in 2010, the role of the pharmacy technician has become an essential part of the medicines optimisation process and, again, with that added responsibility comes increasing demands on their skills base.

In many cases, pharmacists are now being asked to do patient facing work traditionally done by doctors. With that comes a changing requirement for training and demonstration of competence. And while undergraduate curricula and delivery methods are unrecognisable compared with my days at university, there is still much more to do in terms of making sure our pharmacy workforce is fit for purpose as roles and demands continue to change.

The clinical aspects of pharmacy are becoming more complex as new medicines enter the market, genomics is starting to have an impact on the way we use medicines and, of course, our patients are becoming older, frailer and have more complex co-morbidities than ever before.

We cannot be complacent and assume that because we are pharmacy professionals we can deal with these issues and challenges without examining our training and our competence and ensuring we have the right support. The most dangerous thing is not knowing what we don’t know.

It is against this backdrop that Health Education England has published for consultation a draft health and care workforce strategy for England.

With over 1.3 million staff performing over 300 different types of jobs across more than a 1,000 different employers, there is no doubt the NHS needs a robust workforce planning process to ensure that we have pharmacy professionals and other staff in the right numbers, with the right skills and the right values and behaviours to deliver high-quality care.

So, this is your opportunity to shape that future, though providing your views on undergraduate curricula and training, pre-registration training, post-registration foundation training, advanced practitioner training, and consultant pharmacist roles, as well as career paths and progression.

Once agreed, this strategy will set the future in terms of the role of pharmacy professionals to 2027. I would urge you all to take part and make your views known.

Dr Bruce Warner

Dr Bruce Warner works closely with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer on the strategic and operational development of medicines policy for NHS England.

Prior to this post, Bruce worked as Deputy Director of Patient Safety at the NPSA and in NHS England where he led on the strategy for patient safety improvement and headed up the patient safety advice and guidance function.

Bruce has worked in most sectors of pharmacy including community, hospital, academia and at a PCG/T. He is also a visiting Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Huddersfield.