The NHS needs to ‘get serious’ about how it is going to train up pharmacist independent prescribers, Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison has said.

‘At the current rate of developing the existing workforce into prescribers, it'll be 2040 before we have enough. It's a long way away,’ he warned in a recent interview with The Pharmacist, reiterating previous analysis by the CCA.

‘And so the NHS needs to get serious about what is it going to do about it?’

In particular, he said that if the NHS set out a plan and a timeframe for what they will commission pharmacists to prescribe, that would be an incentive for pharmacy employers to train their staff.

‘As an employer, you're paying [for] someone to learn a skill. The only way you can get return on that investment is for that person to do something for a third party. And if that third party won't commit to what they were doing, it becomes difficult, doesn’t it?’

And with more pharmacists working in new roles across primary care, ‘we need more pharmacists to meet the increased demand that the NHS has created’, he said.

While there are more pharmacy undergraduate places than ever before, he warned of a ‘bottleneck’ in the undergraduate and foundation courses caused by a lack of funding for clinical placements.

New courses now require students training as hospital pharmacists to undertake a placement in a community pharmacy setting.

‘Which is great until you realise that actually, there are more community pharmacist trainees, than there are hospital and GP [pharmacist trainees] combined,’ meaning that a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement of each sector taking eachother’s trainees for a placement won’t work.

‘If NHS England wants to put in place the model for foundation training they're proposing, then they need to be realistic about what it's going to cost the providers and make it equitable,’ Mr Harrison said.

Otherwise, any limiting step to training might mean that there is less of a draw into the profession. ‘So while there might be more places than ever, they might struggle to fill them,’ he said.

In response to Mr Harrison’s comments, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Pharmacist:

‘Since 2010 the number of registered pharmacists in England has increased by 82% - that’s nearly 24,000 more pharmacists.

‘The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan sets out how the NHS will build on the changes in pharmacy, and address the changing needs of patients over the next 15 years, by closing the current workforce shortfall through funding for increased education and training places, and a comprehensive retention strategy.

‘Specifically, the plan commits to expand training places for pharmacists to almost 5,000 by 2031/32 and grow the number of pharmacy technicians in future years.’

The recently released NHS workforce plan announced the expansion of training places for pharmacists by almost a third (29%) by 2028/29.

And its ambition is to increase training places for the profession by nearly 50% – to around 5,000 places per year – by 2031/32, it said.

But Graham Stretch, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association (PCPA) told The Pharmacist that while he welcomed the increase in university places, education was ‘only half’ of what was needed to grow the workforce as required and should be matched by investment in practical experience.

And in a joint statement in response to the workforce plan, the CCA and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that changes to the pre-registration training to include independent prescribing will ‘create a once in a generation opportunity’.

They added that the NHS ‘must now be clearer on the opportunities prescribing pharmacists will have in the future’.

‘Plans to upskill the existing workforce to become IPs must also gather pace, the need is now and we must work together to realise opportunity.

‘Efforts to boost skill mix, including the use of pharmacy technicians are welcome. Technicians should be added to the list of healthcare professionals who can work under a Patient Group Direction.’