Boots is preparing to have a pharmacist independent prescriber (PIP) in each of its stores by supporting the cost of the course and investing in training bursaries for 500 of its pharmacists.

The value of the bursary will be up to £7,000 per pharmacist, and it will enable time off work for those who need it to complete the training.

An in-store private prescribing service was trialled late last year and is now in 10 Boots stores in England, with more to be added in the coming months. Boots also offers NHS commissioned prescribing services in 15 stores in Scotland and six in Wales.

The multiple said it hoped the support would accelerate its capacity to offer prescribing services in more of its stores. Boots pharmacists have been invited to apply for the bursary for courses starting in September.

Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots, who was one of three pharmacists honoured with an OBE as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours list, said: ‘At Boots, our ambition in the coming years is to have a pharmacist prescriber available at every store. Pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals that, with the right training and support, will be fully equipped to prescribe certain medicines as well as dispense them. This will give patients greater and more convenient access to the medicines they need.

‘Our investment in training for 500 pharmacists and our private service for England demonstrates our commitment to the future potential for prescribing in community pharmacies, which we believe will save time and money for GPs and other parts of the NHS.’

All MPharm graduates will be IPs from 2026. In November 2021, Health Education England (HEE) announced investment of up to £15.9m to support the expansion of frontline pharmacy professionals in primary care over the next four years. This included giving registered pharmacy professionals the opportunity to access further clinical training, such as independent prescribing skills.

HEE funded 327 independent prescribing places on courses in the first half of this year, and was anticipated to secure a further round of funded IP training to be available from this Autumn, although this is yet to be confirmed.

The Welsh Government set aside £3m for pharmacy training for 2022/2023, part of which was for IP courses for the existing workforce. And, last year, the Scottish Government launched a formal career pathway designed to boost IP numbers in community pharmacy, announcing in May that it would fund nearly 200 additional places for the practice certificate in independent prescribing.

However, no funding will be made available to backfill trainees undertaking the qualification in England, or for their supervision, HEE confirmed last month.

And finding the time to train has been highlighted as an obstacle by those who have previously spoken to The Pharmacist.

While pharmacists working in general practice may receive funding to achieve their qualification, many community pharmacists are forced to self-fund, and then find it difficult to find a suitable role in which they are able to work as an IP.

Earlier this year, 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 IP course, to help the sector meet increasing demand.

The Boots in-store private prescribing service costs £14.99 for the consultation and, if appropriate, for a private prescription to be issued. The patient will pay a further charge to cover the cost of the medicine, if the medication detailed on the private prescription is dispensed. 

Boots delivers the Pharmacy First Plus service in Scotland and the Pharmacy Independent Prescribing Service in Wales on behalf of the NHS in select stores. Under these schemes, pharmacist prescribing is free for patients, who are issued with an NHS prescription if appropriate.

Boots, part of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), employs more than 53,000 people at 2,247 stores, ranging from local community pharmacies to large health and beauty stores. WBA announced last month that it had decided not to sell Boots, following months of speculation over who would take on the multiple.