Featured pharmaceutical scientist

Karen Hassell

Professor Karen Hassell
Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Pharmacy, California NorthState University, Sacramento

Professor Karen Hassell is currently on sabbatical working as Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College of Pharmacy at California NorthState University in Sacramento. However, Karen is best known for the work she carried out in her previous position as Professor of Social Pharmacy, Director of the Centre of Pharmacy Workforce Studies and Head of the Practice Division at the Manchester Pharmacy School, University of Manchester.

With a degree in sociology and social research, Karen was appointed to a research post at Manchester University in 1991, becoming one of the first sociologists to be recruited to a School of Pharmacy in the UK. Following a series of more senior research appointments, Karen secured a Chair in Social Pharmacy at the School of Pharmacy in Manchester in 2006.

Karen’s early remit involved building practice research capacity, raising awareness of the need for an evidence base in pharmacy practice, and teaching research skills to practising community pharmacists. Her work now forms the cornerstone for the professional support and guidance offered to members of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

Since then Karen has conducted many research studies that have informed the development of different aspects of pharmaceutical policies or evaluated their implementation, and has provided advice to government and professional bodies on pharmacy labour market issues. She has been commissioned to write reports for organisations including the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI), General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Department of Health (DH), Pharmacy Practice Research Trust, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) and various health authorities on topics such as pharmacy skill mix, pharmacy employment and the development of the pharmacy workforce.

An early piece of research with which Karen was involved was the evaluation of the ground breaking ‘Care@TheChemist’ scheme. In this initiative, patients seeking general practice appointments were offered a consultation with a community pharmacist. The pharmacists prescribed treatments from a limited formulary. Patients exempt from NHS prescription charges received medicines free of charge. The study showed that management of some self-limiting conditions by community pharmacists was feasible, satisfactory, and acceptable to patients. It had a significant impact on pharmacy health policy and practice since the findings were used to inform discussions about changes to pharmacists’ reimbursement system and the design and delivery of services under the new community pharmacy contract. As a direct result of the trial, the English and Scottish governments introduced national minor ailments services. The DH in England agreed in 2005 to include the “minor ailment scheme” (MAS) in tier 3 of the new NHS community pharmacy contract, and now around 5,000 pharmacies offer the service to several million primary care patients. In Scotland, the MAS service is a core component of the pharmacy contract and the service is provided by all pharmacists.

In 2000, Karen was one of three researchers who secured a prestigious five year NHS Career Scientist Award. The award secured funding for the first ever pharmacist workforce census in 2002. This was followed by a further three census studies, and distinguished pharmacy from other healthcare professions in having access to longitudinal data on the demographics and employment behaviour of the entire pharmacy workforce. The wider workforce research programme that Karen and her team have sustained over a number of years has had a key impact on shaping discussions about a number of contemporary labour market issues for pharmacists and their support staff, in particular questions about supply and demand and forecasting future requirements for pharmacists numbers, the supply of undergraduate training places, pre-registration training, education, and career development, and the management of workplace pressures in community pharmacy. The research findings have had impact for employing organisations in both the public and private sectors, and have been widely used by a range of professional and government bodies, including DH, GPhC, RPS, and CfWI, and the All Wales Modernising Pharmacy Board. For example, findings from the longitudinal studies and other commissioned research work forms the basis of almost a third of the citations in a recent report by the CfWI to inform government pharmacy workforce development policy.

Other research was pivotal in shaping the DH’s modernisation of the operation of NHS community pharmacies. Specifically, the skill mix research was used to secure the necessary changes in primary legislation, (through the 2006 Health Act), to allow the Responsible Pharmacist (RP) Regulations (SI 2008:2789) to be laid in 2008. This was the first stage in introducing flexibility within the legal framework for operating community pharmacies, allowing the RP to be absent from the pharmacy to undertake clinical activities off-site.

Before she left the UK Prof Hassell helped secure NIHR funding to investigate clinical productivity in community pharmacies and the organisational factors associated with its variation. That work is on-going, and Karen hopes that the findings from this particular study will help produce evidence that demonstrates the impact on patients of community pharmacy services.

In recognition of her work, Karen became the first non-pharmacist recipient of the Chemist and Druggist Practice Research Medal in 2003 for her research on the pharmacy workforce, and in 2006 was the first Practice Chair at the British Pharmaceutical Conference.