The body representing community pharmacy in Northern Ireland has warned that if the delay in pharmacy pre-registration students joining the PSNI register is not reversed, then the sector will face another crisis. 

The warning comes on the back of the news that the pharmacy regulatory body in Northern Ireland plans to delay the pre-registration exams from June until August at the earliest.

The exams are for pre-registration pharmacy students who have already completed their pharmacy degree and have been working in practice for around ten months. 

The delay means that 150 newly registered pharmacists will not now be joining the pharmacy workforce this summer as planned and at a time when extra capacity is needed. 

Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene said:  

“This news is a blow to our network because every year we rely on this influx of newly registered pharmacists to take up roles in our community pharmacies. This is even more of a problem during this pandemic as our workforce has struggled with the rise in demand for services and are operating at very limited capacity.” 

“The new registrants typically join the workforce over the summer months and the delay in this means we are not likely to see these pharmacists bolster the workforce until the autumn.” 

“This is also very different to what we have seen from our medical and nursing counterparts who immediately agreed to fast-track final year students and get them into the workforce so they could join frontline efforts to fight coronavirus. This is not the time to delay the qualification of key health care workers.” 

“We are calling on the Minister to intervene to get this decision reversed and allow pharmacy pre-registration exams to go ahead in June as normal.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, community pharmacies were one of the first services to witness a steep and immediate increase in demand for medicines.

A commitment to keep the service going has seen many pharmacists work longer hours and battle with capacity issues due to self-isolation of staff displaying symptoms of Covid-19.  

Danielle Harkin, Pharmacy pre-reg student added: 

“We have been working towards the completion of our pre-registration period in the hope that we could be employed as fully qualified pharmacists this summer and play our part in this pandemic. Given we have all already graduated, we would have expected our registration to be expedited rather than delayed.  Many of my fellow students feel the same sense of frustration.” 

“It is bitterly disappointing to think that we cannot join our healthcare colleagues on the frontline and we hope this decision can be reversed to allow us to get on the register and get to work.” 

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