For a profession notoriously resistant to change, pharmacy has had a lot to adapt to recently.
Judging by the reactions of horror on Twitter, the latest suggestion, of apprenticeships leading eventually to working as a pharmacist, is a bridge too far.
I am sceptical, but I also have the benefit of actually having read the, admittedly limited and poorly-written, literature on the proposals. I would suggest that this is something that those so quick to comment online actually do.
On one hand, I am conscious that a lot of the work I do on a day-to-day basis could easily be undertaken satisfactorily by a robot, or even more competently by a good accuracy checking pharmacy technician.
Do I fear these developments?
No. This is because I recognise that practising as a pharmacist requires a broad knowledge of many areas including ethics, law and pharmacology. It requires excellent communication skills, financial competence, complex high-level decision-making and often intuition which can only be learned from years of experience. I genuinely don’t see how all this could be taught outside of a University setting, without adversely affecting outcomes.
When a patient asks me why the leaflet for Savlon says it can’t be used in those with thyroid conditions, I find myself drawing on many areas of expertise to give a satisfactory answer. I need knowledge of Chemistry, Law, Physiology and Pharmacology at my fingertips.
My training has provided this.
The public expects this level of expertise. They deserve it. They present every day with all manner of ailments and expect you to be able to advise. To say that ‘pharmacists are not required to diagnose and manage medical care’ is just plain wrong.
It is true to say that the current model of training pharmacists has not been completely successful. Despite aiming to create a level playing field, there is a huge variation in the quality of those on the register, particularly noticeable as a gap in pass-rates between sectors. I know registrants who are genuinely worse than useless. I also know several expert technicians who I would far prefer to run my local community pharmacy than some pharmacists, despite lacking the degree-level education.
There is variability in every profession, but ours more than most.
In conclusion, despite not being completely opposed to a change in the way we educate pharmacists, I feel strongly that this is not the way forward. It seems ill-conceived, rushed and poorly planned. The employer-led nature of the proposals immediately raises my suspicions, the absurd and nonsensical tweets worry me, and the fact that out of all our professional organisations only the PDA seems to have a coherent response is frankly saddening.
Pharmacists are naturally worried about an oversupply of registrants and the impact this could have on their salaries in the short-term. This is understandable.
Of more concern, however, should be the effect such changes would have on the profession overall, and how we are perceived by the public. We need a profession which is properly funded for students, contractors and NHS employees.
Giving the go-ahead for pharmacists-on-the-cheap would be harmful to everyone, especially patients.