The government has outlined plans to train 50 community-based specialist mental health pharmacists, as part of a plan to expand and develop the NHS workforce.

As part of the NHS ‘People Plan,’ published yesterday, Health Education England (HEE) has committed to training mental health pharmacists alongside other healthcare professionals to continue ‘investment in training the future mental health workforce to support significant expansion in psychological therapies’.

The final version of the NHS People Plan - which prior to the coronavirus pandemic was expected to be published by NHS Improvement (NHSI) in early April - aims to address key issues facing the NHS workforce and sets out what the NHS employees can expect ‘from their leaders and from each other’ for the rest of 2020 and 2021’.

The document builds on an interim People Plan that was published last year. The provisional agenda focused on support and training for the workforce, as well as new leadership opportunities and a chance to showcase what pharmacy has to offer.

Influx of patients with mental health issues

The plan comes after pharmacists called for mental health training, as teams began to see an influx of people suffering from mental health issues during lockdown which they did not feel ‘well enough equipped’ to deal with.

Mike Hewtitson, a superintendent pharmacist at Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, told the Pharmacist in May he felt the sector needed more training to support and help patients. ‘Pharmacy staff need to be able to identify when a patient is having mental health issues, especially when people start to emerge from lockdown’, he said.

‘This is a good opportunity for pharmacies to be able to help people. But we require extra training, which we don’t have.’

More clinical pharmacists

The publication also outlined plans to develop clinical pharmacists to ‘provide even more patient-centred care’ and to create ‘a sustainable supply of prescribing pharmacists with enhanced clinical and consultation skills’.

The body consolidated reports that the NHS will be replacing the current pre-registration year with a foundation year.

‘This continuous, educational programme for pharmacists will still be five years in duration, and will link into advanced practice and research training,’ the plan explained.

‘Working with stakeholders, and under the leadership of the General Pharmaceutical Council, the aim is to start this new approach from Summer 2021, building on HEE’s Interim Foundation Programme that will commence in September 2020.’

Call for more funding

Responding to the plan to replace the current pre-reg year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said: ‘Pharmacists will play a key role in supporting the NHS restoration and recovery and the ‘People Plan’ recognises the need to recruit and develop the workforce for the future, helping people to enhance their skills and progress their careers.

‘We’ll continue working with Health Education England on proposed changes to pre-registration and foundation training and it’s vital this is taken forward in discussion with stakeholders. If we are to realise the ambition to create a sustainable supply of prescribing pharmacists, this must be supported by appropriate funding,’ they argued.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) welcomed the Government’s renewed focus on pharmacists’ clinical skills and similarly called for funding and more detail to follow: ‘Only by mobilising the entire healthcare workforce, including community pharmacists and their teams, can there be any prospect of the NHS recovering from Covid-19 and meeting the growing needs of an ageing population.

‘However, further developing clinical skills will be pointless if there is no way to deploy those skills in practice. More investment is needed in NHS services that allow community pharmacists to prescribe for minor illnesses, the management of long term medical conditions and prevention, improving the patient journey and achieving system-wide efficiencies.

The NPA added: ‘The chronic underfunding of the community pharmacy contract in England has to be addressed urgently, to make any reform meaningful and beneficial to patients here.’