The debate around pharmacists’ job titles continues to rage on social media. So what exactly constitutes a ‘clinical pharmacist’, asks Cathy Cooke

I was recently involved in a lively discussion on Twitter where a group of pharmacists from different sectors were putting forward their views on what constitutes a ‘clinical pharmacist’.

The title gained attention following the announcement of the ‘clinical pharmacists in GP practice pilot’ by NHS England, which is being run in collaboration with Health Education England, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association’s GP Committee and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

In the pilot, ‘clinical pharmacists’ are required to ‘work as part of the general practice team to resolve day-to-day medicine issues and consult with and treat patients directly. This includes providing extra help to manage long-term conditions, advice for those on multiple medications and better access to health checks’.

It has been a subject of some debate of late, with many claiming that – as trained healthcare professionals – all pharmacists are clinical, and that to suggest otherwise is patronising and unfair.

‘I’m a clinical pharmacist,’ I suggested in the Twitter debate. But am I? I thought that I would carry out a little investigation to find out.

Firstly, I decided to find out what the term ‘clinical’ actually means. The Oxford Living Dictionary’s relevant definition is relating to the observation and treatment of actual patients rather than theoretical or laboratory studies.’ Merriam-Webster’s is ‘of, relating to, or conducted in or as if in a clinic; as involving direct observation of the patient.’

Based on these definitions, I’m definitely not a clinical pharmacist because I work in an advisory role for a healthcare organisation as part of the clinical governance team, also managing the medicines procurement and drug bag replenishment department. I don’t observe or treat patients. In the same vein, there are a range of non-clinical pharmacist roles in, for example, industry, academia and primary care organisations.

Community pharmacists, on the other hand, carry out observation and provide treatment to patients who consult with them for over the counter advice, and some may also be running clinics where, for example, they provide treatment via Patient Group Directions or as an independent prescriber. This arguably makes them clinical pharmacists.

Similarly, hospital pharmacists have a professional development programme that includes studying for a postgraduate clinical diploma as part of progression, with clinical roles at varying degrees of seniority.

So, back to my initial question - are all pharmacists clinical pharmacists? Clearly not, but clinical pharmacists are found in hospitals, GP practices, community pharmacies and other locations such as care homes.

There is a range of clinical expertise among pharmacists depending on qualifications, training and experience, and the clinical element of practice may constitute a large or a smaller part of the role. The Carter Report for hospital pharmacy, GP practice pharmacist developments and the increasing opportunity for clinical roles in the community mean that the development of clinically-focused pharmacist roles is set to continue.

England’s chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge has made it clear that he sees the future of the sector as increasingly clinical. So regardless of your view on whether or not you qualify as a clinical pharmacist, it seems that the sector is headed for a clinical future.