Following UK’s exit from Europe, NHS England is now looking to allow pharmacists (along with paramedics) to become doctors after undergoing additional training as part of a fast-track conversion course. This is a move thought to be in line with plans to create “a more flexible, more permeable” NHS organisation, that could help address the serious and escalating workforce crisis that embraces the NHS today.
Post-Brexit Ministers will consider relaxation of the regulatory requirements for the current medical degree programmes spanning five or six years – programmes that have been customary for many years under EU ruling.
First and foremost, it is important to recognise and understand that pharmacists in the UK undergo a rigorous 5-year training programme before being allowed to practice as qualified pharmacists – no mean feat! In addition, pharmacists as experts in medicines undergo a continued programme of ongoing professional development – a mandatory and regulatory requirement set out by the General Pharmaceutical Council as part of daily practice.
Pharmacists are highly skilled healthcare professionals and as such are central to help improving patient care, ensuring safe and effective use of medicines, and adding positive value to the £18 billion annual NHS spend on medicines – as outlined in the NHS Long-Term Plan. Their work largely straddles across community, primary care, hospital, industry and academia. Within the NHS pharmacists are often part of a multidisciplinary team, supporting, advising and providing best clinical care and practice to patients. In the community alone, up to 1.6 million people access community pharmacy services and provision on a daily basis.
For a great number of years pharmacists have been recognised by many as being a valuable yet highly underutilised resource in the delivery of health care – it seems the tide has now begun to turn. The changing landscape of the NHS and ever-advancing role of the pharmacist, is now making it more favorable than before in allowing the NHS to help make better and more effective use of their clinical skills and expertise.
Whilst Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, advocates that pharmacists could be retrained quickly as doctors in a crusade to help plug the national shortage of NHS doctors, I strongly believe that this “quick-fix approach” should not and cannot be a means to helping resolve the workforce crisis. In fact, supporting the better utilisation of healthcare professionals trained within their own chosen disciplines, through wiser and additional investment, would bring greater value, improve health outcomes, and genuinely provide a more effective health service.
For example, as many as 6,000 pharmacists will be needed to support Primary Care Networks, yet many are struggling to recruit into new roles. Equally in the case of diabetes, a national audit report conducted by Diabetes UK in 2017 found that as many as 260,000 people with diabetes in hospital experienced medication errors, which could have resulted in serious harm or even death. Around 58,000 of them had severe hypoglycaemia. It is now believed that that one in three people with diabetes will experience a medication error during their stay in hospital. Having the right team, in the right areas, at the right times, may have helped prevent many of these avoidable adversities. It is important to make good use of the right skill set and expertise around you.
Encouraging highly trained experts to move into other healthcare disciplines is pointless in many ways, when they can be better utilised, add more value in their own areas of expertise and skill sets through appropriate investment and support. Tackling the workforce shortage crisis needs a strategic approach and one without compromise to standards, competency, knowledge levels and skillsets.
It’s important to thoughtfully support and build on the healthcare professionals that we currently have to help make our NHS better, more effective, much safer, and more efficient in delivering the highest standard of care and services to patients that we have all been accustomed to for many years in the past.
Let’s make more pharmacists become better pharmacists not doctors.