The coronavirus pandemic, in creating several serious epidemics in countries around the world, has undoubtedly put unprecedented strain on health care systems. This may not just be intensive care facilities, which have often reached capacity and required ‘overflow’ beds, but perhaps in other further reaching aspects of healthcare provision. A key institution in the community and within hospitals is the pharmacy. Providing basic care, dispensing medicines, health screening and providing invaluable advice. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the GPC announced they would be postponing the registration exams for new pharmacists until a later date (now summer and autumn 2021). This strategy was put in place to allow pre-registration by new pharmacists to work in the community and in the NHS during the pandemic to achieve two things; to gain experience on the job, but also to help reduce some of the increased strain on pharmacies due to coronavirus pressures.
Those pharmacists who entered the pre-registration gained a time-limited license as a pharmacist, with several restrictions, to be able to develop their skills through practice. For the pre-registration, there are certain vital entry requirement (between July 2020 and July 2021), not least to reach a high standard, but also to ensure continued patient care and competence. All of the requirements are subject to the individual passing the initial pre-registration assessment vetting. The clauses for pre-registration currently are:
Furthermore, there will also be a requirement to obtain a reference and endorsement from a tutor who was involved in the education of the pharmacist, as well as a secondary reference from a second registrant who may have trained them (for example, a superintendent pharmacist). The pharmacist may then work in any organisation which has a superintendent pharmacist, is owned by a pharmacist or a chief pharmacist. When imbedded in one of these places of work, it is the duty of the responsible senior pharmacist to incorporate the registrants portfolio of learning, the number of qualifications of the whole pharmacy team, and the types of services the pharmacy provides (e.g. needle exchange) into a comprehensive risk assessment.
Many pharmacists who took great advantage of this offer from the GPC are now looking anxiously towards the impending registration exams coming this summer and autumn. Some of the clauses in the pre-registration, such as needing to be employed through a registered pharmacy and work in the fixed address, may have seemed restrictive. Locum pharmacy is a lucrative and desirable aspect of this line of work, and the luxury of self-employment and ‘pick and choose’ working is a luxury reserved for those pharmacists who pass the exams and become fully registered. Locum pharmacy is something employed by pharmacists who strive for flexibility, and those who wish to have a dynamic and differing niche in clinical practice. The traditional route of finding one set employment and working in the same place seems to be more and more a thing of the past, and newly graduated pharmacy fledglings may be longing for that sense of exploration and depth go to work in novel settings.
While it remains to be seen what lasting impact these changes will have, it certainly has pros and cons. Certain pre-registration pharmacists who have been deployed to niche circumstances (i.e. specialist wards in hospitals) may have learned a wealth of new knowledge in a completely novel area. Despite this, there may be holes in the knowledge of these pharmacists when it comes to taking the summer exams, as they have had to focus on their daily experience in the novel setting. Certainly, this has not been the best time to achieve registration in what is already an extremely challenging field. However, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association has ensured there is a strong case that those who are pre-registered will gain similar reimbursement for their work, akin to a fully qualified pharmacist.