The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has called on employers, legislators and NHS organisations to ensure pharmacists are provided with protected learning time (PLT) for professional development during working hours.

The RPS said PLT is essential for the pharmacy workforce to develop skills in clinical delivery, education, research and leadership as it ‘continues to deliver under immense pressure’.

An RPS workforce wellbeing survey found an average of 42% of pharmacists were not given any PLT, with the figure rising to 55% for community pharmacy. The RPS said most of the workers were unable to engage in professional development activities as part of their working day because of their responsibility to deliver frontline clinical services to patients.

With learning often undertaken outside of working hours, the RPS is concerned about increasing pressure on individuals and the impact on their work/life balance. According to the wellbeing survey, 48% of respondents identified a lack of PLT as negatively affecting their mental health, and 88% felt they were at risk of burnout.

Professor Claire Anderson, RPS president, said it was ‘unacceptable’ that many pharmacists have to use their own time for professional development to provide clinical services for patients. ‘It’s the ultimate irony that their personal dedication to patients could be affecting their ability to provide the safest possible care,’ she added.

She believes that without PLT being part of everyday practice, Government ambitions for the delivery of services by pharmacist prescribers will be frustrated.

‘A significant increase in learning opportunities for prescribers and in workplace supervision capacity for designated prescribing practitioners will be essential to successful implementation of high-quality, safe services for patients,’ she said.

‘As well as being clinicians, pharmacists are also educators, researchers and leaders. They need protected time to build those skills, support others in practice and develop professional leadership. Time must be allocated outside of patient-facing activities so pharmacists can develop alongside other healthcare professionals.’

According to Dr Soumia Kolli, primary care network pharmacy workforce lead at Islington GP Federation, taking pharmacists and pharmacy technicians out of practice to meet once a week for PLT helps with feelings of isolation and supports shared learning.

Dr Kolli, who leads a team of around 40 clinical pharmacists and five pharmacy technicians across 30 practices in London, said: ’The time together also helps the pharmacy team to feel clinically safe and supported and provides an outlet to discuss issues, as well as developing a sense of team that enables staff to feel valued and supported.’

Professor Anderson believes such PLT initiatives give confidence to other healthcare professionals ‘by demonstrating commitment to ongoing learning and development, building trust and understanding within multidisciplinary teams’.

She added: ‘Governments, employers and NHS bodies must enable regular, funded, PLT and the infrastructure to support it to enable continuous professional development from foundation pharmacists to consultant level across Great Britain. We believe it is essential that learning time is considered in any future workforce plans.’