The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is urging the NHS to explore protected learning time for community pharmacists in England and Scotland.

This comes following the launch of a pilot in Wales, led by Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) and the Welsh government, looking at protected learning in community pharmacy settings across the nation.

Today (7 July) the RPS is calling for the pilot to be rolled out throughout Great Britain.

Robbie Turner, RPS director of pharmacy and member experience, said: ‘Regular paid protected learning time should be standard practice for all pharmacists in all sectors, regardless of career stage.

‘As pharmacists become more closely embedded in the multi-disciplinary team and take on more clinical roles, protected learning time will become even more crucial in providing safe services to patients.

‘The pilot on protected learning time taking place through HEIW is an excellent initiative.

‘We’re calling for it to be replicated on a bigger scale in England and Scotland so more data can be collected on the approaches that most benefit pharmacists and to help support protected learning time for pharmacists to become reality across Great Britain.’

Supporting future progression

The 12-month Welsh pilot is running until March 2022 and will explore three models of protected learning in pharmacies:

  • Self-directed continuing professional development (CPD), where participants organise their own reflection and learning through the year to map against a recognised framework.
  • ‘In-practice’ support from a mentor/educational supervisor, where participants are released to organise their own development, with 50% of the time supported by an established professional who can guide learning, provide formative feedback, and undertake assessment.
  • Credit bearing qualifications, where participants are given time to undertake university modules, the required ‘in-practice’ activities and assessment.

It aims to evaluate which approach best supports pharmacy professionals in developing their skills and knowledge and providing evidence of their progression.

According to the 2019 RPS report Pharmacy: Delivering a Healthier Wales, pharmacists do not have regular, paid time set aside to undertake continuing professional development or training.

A spokesperson for HEIW told The Pharmacist: 'The General Pharmaceutical Council ‘Registrant Survey 2019’, evidenced the problems with work-life balance in community pharmacy. Opportunities to undertake CPD and training during a working day vary between sectors of pharmacy practice, with least time available in community pharmacy, despite these professionals working the longest hours.

'The outcome of the pilot will inform future policy direction enabling pharmacy professionals to work towards recognised development whether at early career, advanced or consultant level.'

Lack of parity with other professions

‘Professional development cannot be an optional extra that is fitted into personal time outside work,’ Mr Turner said.

‘For years pharmacists have demonstrated enormous goodwill and used their own time to acquire new skills and knowledge which are essential to their role, or delivering a new service. This can cause an increase in stress and burnout as pharmacists feel they cannot ‘switch off’ after work.

‘Many other healthcare professionals have long had protected learning time and pharmacists should have parity with them. Apart from professional advancement, protected learning time as a group can help with team-building and improving staff morale, which is essential to wellbeing, as well as improving services to patients.’