The first module of an e-learning programme intended to improve research awareness, knowledge and skills for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians has been launched.

The programme of nine modules – from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), supported by the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK) – is aimed at pharmacy professionals with little to no research experience or opportunities.

The three organisations say the programme will help pharmacy professionals to provide the evidence base to improve the pharmacy practice and patient health.

A total of nine modules will be released by the end of this year, covering:

  • What research is
  • How to turn ideas into a research project
  • Different research methods
  • Practical considerations when undertaking research

RPS president Professor Claire Anderson said that many pharmacy professionals are ‘daunted’ by getting involved in research, including as part of RPS post-registration credentialing assessments.

‘However, we believe it’s important that all pharmacy professionals have the opportunity to engage in research activities, not only to develop professionally, but also to contribute to and build on the pharmacy evidence base,’ she added.

Chief pharmaceutical officer for England, David Webb, said that the e-learning modules ‘offer a valuable opportunity for pharmacy professionals to learn more about contributing to, participating in and leading research – enabling a positive impact on patient care and professional skills and equipping pharmacists and pharmacy technicians for the future’.

The development of the modules was supported by the APTUK whose president, Claire Steele said: ‘This is a fantastic example of how partnership working can produce development opportunitie.s for pharmacy professionals with a real focus on improving pharmacy practice and importantly benefiting our patients and communities.’

Director of programmes and impact at NIHR Academy, Dr Pete Thompson, said: ‘The new online resources that will be generated from this initiative will provide opportunities to engage clinicians who may not have experience of research and allow them to gain new skills to enable them to feel more confident to engage with research and research opportunities.’

Professor Mahendra Patel OBE , a pharmacist as well as the inclusion and diversity lead for the PRINCIPLE and PANORAMIC Covid-19 trials at the University of Oxford, told The Pharmacist that community pharmacy teams were uniquely placed to carry out research because of their engagement with patients within the community every day.

He said that research could be interesting, patient-centred and integrated with patient interactions and the delivery of clinical services. Pharmacists could then present their learnings to others, ‘but they need to be equipped, supported and obviously upskilled to do that’, he added.

In January, he told The Pharmacist that the ‘appetite is definitely there’ for pharmacists to get involved in research, but were prevented from doing so by a lack of funding, motivation and available time.

Today, he commented: ‘We can upskill as much as we like, but is there the mechanism in which to apply those skills, and the platform, and is the opportunity there to do that?’

He said that pharmacy teams needed ‘a whole raft of infrastructure in place – from funding to education to training’ to enable them to undertake research.

Professor Patel added that he was mindful of workforce pressures, saying that there needed to be ‘a cultural change’ among pharmacy teams and employers to see the value of research, both in developing their own profile and in working towards better health outcomes for patients.

For example, this could involve employers creating time for research – possibly renumerating pharmacists for their time spent undertaking research if necessary, he explained.

Professor Patel also said that other practitioners undertaking research ‘should understand that there's an opportunity to join up with pharmacists in the community’ to engage patients and deliver research.

He said: ‘I think we need to educate senior leaders and managers within organisations the benefits of doing engaging in research, how we need evidence to improve health outcomes and the importance of evidence based practice,’ adding that community pharmacies were well placed to help reach disadvantaged communities and ensure that research was representative.

‘There's got to be an inclination and a vision for the person who wants to engage in that research, to show what benefit it can do and bring in terms of improving health and health outcomes. What can it do for them in terms of exploring their interests and, and to be able to strengthen that pursuit in that manner should they wish to, and what infrastructure is in place to support that?’