Training places for pharmacists will be expanded by almost a third (29%) by 2028/29, NHS England has announced today within its new workforce plan.

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

While the move to increase training numbers was welcomed by the sector, leaders commented that it must be matched by support for the workforce to undertake training.

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.

In particular, he outlined the need to train the existing community pharmacy profession as prescribers, ahead of foundation trainees needing to undertake the independent prescriber training ready for their graduation in 2026.

‘We are only going to be successful in producing this prescribing profession if we make equal investment in the on-the-job training [as] we've made with the universities,’ he said.

And he suggested that a tariff or a training grant should be made available for employers to offer independent prescribing training, which could help release time for prescribers to supervise trainees as Designated Prescribing Practitioners (DPPs).

Tase Oputu, chair of the England Pharmacy Board at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said that ‘with pharmacists delivering more clinical services and with growing numbers of pharmacist independent prescribers’, it was ‘encouraging to see the plan commit to investing in pharmacy education and training’.

But she said that pharmacy teams were ‘under enormous pressure’, and that ‘if we want to recruit and retain the staff we need, it is vital they get the support they deserve’.

She added: ‘Pharmacy teams tell us they also need protected time for learning and development, as well as for contributing to research or developing new services, alongside measures to reduce staff burnout.

‘We all want to see improved support for our workforce so we can keep looking after patients. How this plan is put into practice, backed by long-term funding, will be key to its success.’

In a joint statement, the chief executives of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Mark Lyonette, and of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), Malcolm Harrison, called for the NHS to ‘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,’ they said.