The University of Leicester has launched the UK’s first independent prescribing qualification that will use distance-learning to deliver the programme to pharmacists based anywhere in the UK.

The programme is accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and 250 places each year will be funded by Health Education England. The first cohort started the course in late September, and the university plans to have at least two entry points to the course each year.

Students will undertake seven days to face-to-face training, only two of which will be in-person and five of which will be interactive webinar; 19 days of e-learning or directed learning; and 90 hours of learning in practice under the supervision of a Designated Prescribing Practitioner (DPP).

The in-person study days will be delivered at multiple locations, which the University of Leicester says will provide regional coverage and therefore minimise travel for trainee prescribers.

Professor David Wright, who led the initiative to establish the prescribing programme, said the course was designed ‘in response to a number of requests from community pharmacy employers’ who wanted independent prescribing training for pharmacists 'in any UK location’.

He added: ‘With an experienced team of pharmacist educators and prescribers delivering the course, I am confident that trainees will get a great learning experience.’

The part-time course can be completed in a minimum of 16 weeks. Students must complete the programme within a year of registering on the course.

Course director Professor Debi Bhattacharya said that the course was ‘carefully designed’ to ‘support trainees from diverse clinical and experiential backgrounds’.

Professor Bhattacharya added: ‘The use of technology to make online learning interesting and interactive provides flexibility to the trainee by allowing them to choose when they want to learn, at their own pace.

‘It has the added benefit of allowing trainees to maximise their time learning instead of travelling. Furthermore, all e-learning activities and assessments are linked to GPhC standards, thus overcoming the need for trainees to undertake laborious mapping themselves.’

Community pharmacist Ade Williams said that getting time off to undertake independent prescribing training was currently a hurdle for pharmacists.

‘If you wanted to do independent prescribing, not only do you have to find somebody to supervise you, you then need to take time off to go,’ he said, adding that pharmacists may not receive approval to take holidays in order to carry out the learning.

He described the flexible, online learning delivered by the course as ‘really game changing’.

Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, has encouraged community pharmacists to train as independent prescribers as the sector moves towards providing more clinical services, warning of the need to ‘guard against a two-tier service where pharmacists don't even have the opportunity to take advantage of what is coming along’.

In August, HEE announced nearly 3,000 funded independent prescribing training places, 250 of which will be available on the Leicester University course.

NHS England has also said it is embarking on a pathfinder pilot programme to work out the details of how independent prescribing will work in a community pharmacy setting.