No funding will be made available to backfill trainees undertaking the pharmacist independent prescribing (PIP) qualification, or for their supervision, Health Education England (HEE) has confirmed, prompting concerns over the 'disappointing lack of strategic planning and funding to support the programme.'

Every independent prescribing (IP) trainee must have a designated prescribing practitioner (DPP) — a doctor or other healthcare professional with at least three years’ independent prescribing experience — to start their course and supervise their learning, but HEE has told The Pharmacist that, 'in line with other NHS funded IP trainees, backfill funding is not available for trainees or DMPs/DPPs at this time'.

Thorrun Govind, RPS England country board chair also told The Pharmacist that 'it is vital we invest in education and training if we are to make the most of the pharmacy workforce and unleash the potential of independent prescribers to support patient care.

She added: 'Alongside a busy clinical workload, there needs to be a real shift in culture where pharmacists have time in their job plan to undertake education-related activity, including supporting the development of others. This is a shared responsibility and needs to be driven by Government, the NHS, educators, employers and across the pharmacy profession.'

Whilst all successful trainee pharmacists will be entering the GPhC register as independent prescribers from 2026, the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) has pointed to the fact that the existing pharmacist workforce is 'reliant on opportunities' to undertake prescriber training through release from their employment, and the 'ability to secure a DPP or DMP to support the 90 days of supervised practice required'.

It said it has 'already heard examples of potential DMPs or DPPs requesting a significant fee from trainees before they will provide supervision,' and suggested 'meeting that request is not an option for many'.

'This latest decision threatens to undermine the availability of the large numbers of pharmacists seeing supervisors as more IP training becomes available,' the PDA warned.

Alison Jones, director of policy at the PDA said, 'With such significant changes to pharmacists’ education, and the vision of the NHS for pharmacists to play a much greater role in providing clinical care to patients and the public, it is disappointing to see the lack of strategic planning and funding to support this programme through to see it reach its full potential.'

It is in 'everyone’s interests to ensure that there are enough pharmacists progressing to become PIPs,' the PDA said, as they offer care and services to professions and can help train DPPs in subsequent cohorts.

The PDA said the latest development is also 'a cause for concern for the locum pharmacist workforce, where backfill was never an option, and loss of earnings would be incurred if they wish to undertake PIP training.'

In January 2022, the PDA highlighted this issue, arguing that 'with around 10,000 locum pharmacists in membership working across a wide variety of healthcare settings, it is essential that there are a significant number of locums trained to be IPs to meet the future needs of employers, including the NHS'.

The PDA called for one possible solution to be a bursary arrangement to be made available to those undertaking the qualification beyond the basic costs of the course, which could be used for backfill or to supplement lost income, but 'the latest announcement makes it clear that any such funding will not be available,' it acknowledged.

Dr Matt Aiello, national programmes lead for education reform at HEE, said HEE recognises 'the need to consider long-term workforce solutions,' so it is 'working collaboratively with system partners including employers and course providers to address challenges around access to, and capacity of, prescriber supervision.'

He said: 'This challenge is not unique to pharmacy, but one that affects all prescriber professions. A range of options and initiatives are in planning, with a focus on expanding supervisor access and capacity across all sectors.

'The aim of this approach is to ensure a confident, competent Designated Prescribing Practitioner workforce, in the right numbers to meet current and future demand.'

Ms Jones said: 'Rather than plan to overcome emerging barriers to the roll-out of the IP training, this approach makes it harder for the objectives of the initiative to be met.  It could also be significantly unfair if the NHS subsequently makes a u-turn as any pharmacist who has self-funded a DPP/DMP for their training will rightly be frustrated if later cohorts do get funding.'

Last month, the GPhC announced the removal of the requirement for registered pharmacists to have at least two years of clinical practice experience before enrolling on an accredited independent prescribing course, to help the pharmacy sector meet the increasing demand for pharmacist independent prescribers.