The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has proposed that it undertakes more regular quality assurance checks of education and training providers amid changes to the pharmacist and pharmacy technician professions.

Changes suggested by the pharmacy regulator would include looking into how trainees are learning from other professions – such as student pharmacists undertaking independent prescribing training.

The regulator also said it wanted to identify and address concerns in a more timely manner by using data, annual monitoring and flexible intervention mechanisms.

And it proposed that it should set out the criteria and clear lines of responsibility for deciding whether a course or qualification should be re-approved.

The proposals will be open for consultation for 10 weeks, until 13 June 2024.

It comes as some within the pharmacy sector have expressed concerns about the training and education of pharmacy technicians as they are set to take on more responsibilities, including supplying medicines under patient group directions (PGDs).

Changes are also being made to the pharmacist profession, with independent prescribing being incorporated into the MPharm degree so that all new UK-educated pharmacists will join the register with a prescribing qualification from 2026.

GPhC chief strategy officer and deputy registrar, Mark Voce, said: ‘Pharmacy education and training sets a foundation for the knowledge, skills, understanding and professional behaviours a pharmacy student must demonstrate in order to become fully qualified and join the professional register.

‘As such it is vital that we check that training providers are meeting our standards through a quality assurance process. By doing this we are ensuring trainees are getting the right level of education to become competent practitioners of the future.

‘The changes we are proposing will help us identify issues more effectively, act more quickly if necessary and be fairer to all providers.’

And he encouraged ‘those with an interest in pharmacy education’ to take part in the consultation.

What changes are being proposed?

Currently, the GPhC’s quality assurance approval process of training and education providers is carried out on a three year cycle, alternating between an interim approval event and a reapproval.

The GPhC said in its consultation on the changes that this fixed cycle gives the regulator ‘a limited chance to spot and deal with concerns early’ and ‘can mean that students and trainees do not receive the support or guidance they need at the time when they most need them’.

While it currently collects student data for some programmes, such as the MPharm and independent prescribing programmes, it is proposing to expand its monitoring, and to collect detail beyond admission numbers progression and completion rates, equality monitoring information and student fitness to practise concerns.

And providers would also be asked to comment on areas including students’ performance in the registration assessment and any updates, information about new developments, or action plans.

The GPhC would use a traffic light matrix to define the significance and urgency of each concern, before they are assessed by the regulator, it suggested.

And its process would apply to independent prescribing courses and courses for pharmacy technician and pharmacy support staff provided by private institutions, as well as for MPharm degrees delivered by higher education institutions.

Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the GPhC said some changes could be introduced immediately, such as sending providers their GPhC registration assessment performance data reports for MPharm and OSPAP graduates.

The regulator also said it had already started developing student and trainee surveys for each type of education and training provision, which would be piloted from the 2024/25 academic year.

And increased data monitoring could be rolled out between 2024/25 and 2025/26, the GPhC said.