NHS England (NHSE) is monitoring the uptake and availability of independent prescribing (IP) training places across the country, it has said.

This comes as some courses for September are already full, with some pharmacists completing the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) pathway reporting difficulty in finding places for a September start.

But several course providers have also told The Pharmacist that they still had places available for both community and practice-based pharmacists.

Almost 3,000 independent prescribing places are funded by NHSE across various universities for the academic year 2023/24.

They are open to applications from community pharmacists (including locums), pharmacists employed in general practice, health and justice pharmacists, pharmacists enrolled on CPPE’s Primary Care Pharmacy Education Pathway (PCPEP), pharmacists working in an NHS hospital trust or mental health trust and pharmacists working in an integrated care board (ICB).

While NHSE commissions a certain number of places per institution annually, providers tend to run multiple cohorts so that the places are spread out across the year.

Several pharmacists currently on the PCPEP have reported difficulty finding places for courses starting in September.

Primary care network (PCN) pharmacist Melissa Dadgar told The Pharmacist that she tried to apply for independent prescribing courses as soon as she was able to, three months before the end of her CPPE programme.

But she was told by one provider that the course starting in September was fully booked, with another telling her that places were only available for community pharmacists.

‘Doing the CPPE programme should have made [applying for independent prescribing] a lot more smother,’ she said.

Jill Merewood, director of the independent prescribing course at Reading University, told The Pharmacist that universities are funded by NHSE to award places to three different groups of pharmacists: those on the PCPEP pathway, those providing primary care services (including community pharmacists, including locums, and pharmacists employed by GP surgeries), and  pharmacists working in an NHS hospital trust or mental health trust or pharmacists working in an ICB.

She said that at Reading, the number of funded places per group is capped each year, but that pharmacists could also choose to wait for the next cohort or round of funding, to self-fund or could potentially be sponsored to undertake the course by their employer.

She added that Reading University had not yet awarded all of the funded places for either PCN or community pharmacists, but that it had received a high volume of applications.

‘I'm going to have to turn away at least 50 applicants for my September cohorts, and that is based on numbers [of applicants],’ she said.

And she added that she understood the desire from existing pharmacists to upskill ahead of the changes to the foundation programme coming into force, with newly qualified pharmacists becoming prescribers at the point of registration in 2026.

An NHSE spokesperson told The Pharmacist that NHSE ‘continues to commission independent prescribing training places for pharmacists in England across the sectors of practice’.

They said: ‘We are aware that some cohorts are fully subscribed for September however we continue to work with university providers to monitor uptake and availability of training places across England until March 2024.

‘Training places vary by university provider, with the number of places available to primary care network pharmacists being contingent on the number of pharmacists completing the Primary Care Pharmacy Education Programme per year, who are not already prescribers.’

‘Independent prescribing training places are available on a rolling basis, with several universities offering multiple dates for cohort intakes up to March 2024.’

The spokesperson explained that funded courses were ‘still available’ through NHSE, and refuted any suggestion that there were delays caused by its merger with Health Education England.

The 2022 NHSE community pharmacy workforce survey, the results of which were published this week, found that between autumn 2021 and autumn 2022, there was a 37% increase in the reported number of independent prescribers (IPs) working in community pharmacy.

But Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, raised concerns that the 37% increase in the number of IPs 'does not reflect the whole picture'.

He said: 'The 37% increase only represents an increase in 1.6% of the total community pharmacist workforce, growing from 4.2% to 5.8%.

‘We want 95% of community pharmacists to be prescribers by 2030. There is still a long way to go before the public can expect to find a prescriber in every pharmacy.'

Many community pharmacists have previously raised concerns about the difficulty of finding a designated prescribing practitioner (DPP) to supervise their IP training, as well as the difficulty of finding time to study and train.

What independent prescribing places are available for this academic year?

The Pharmacist attempted to contact all accredited independent prescribing course providers in England to find out whether places were still available for PCN and community pharmacists.

A Coventry University Group spokesperson said that the university had places available on its NHSE funded and traditionally funded prescribing programmes.

And they said that applications for its September 2023 start closed this week, and that it was now taking applications for January 2024.

‘We are in the process of reviewing the applications and if our NHSE funded places are not filled in September, we may consider bringing January applicants forward,’ they added.

In Lincoln, a new 45 credit Independent Prescribing Short Course for Pharmacists has opened for applications for its first cohort, due to commence in February 2024.

Dianne Ramm and Caroline Needham, both joint programme leaders for the course, said that they ‘would be happy to consider applications from pharmacists working in any clinical environment’.

‘We are therefore not placing any restrictions on pharmacists from any particular area of clinical care,’ they said.

And they added that they would consider applications from pharmacists who had secured funding or sponsorship as well as self-funders.

Prof Debi Bhattacharya, director of the pharmacist independent prescribing course at Leicester University, said that the course was open to pharmacists from any background, but that it only had NHSE funding available for community pharmacists, with no restriction on its allocation.

Last year, Leicester launched the UK’s first independent prescribing qualification using distance-learning to deliver the programme to pharmacists based anywhere in the UK, with 250 places each year funded by NHSE.

Sheffield Hallam University confirmed that were places available on the course for both PCN and community pharmacists.

And Jane Collins, co-lead of the independent prescribing course at the University of Bradford, told The Pharmacist that it was ‘still worth applying’ as any applicants who did not get a place for a September start might be offered one for the next cohort in January.

Other universities declined to comment or could not be reached. A full list of GPhC-accredited independent prescribing course providers can be found on the GPhC website.