4. Why is Protected Learning Time needed?
Protected learning time (PLT) is needed to give professionals time to develop clinical and non-clinical capabilities across the pharmacy workforce, particularly around education and research as well as leadership.
Many pharmacists are currently unable to engage in professional development activities as part of their working time. One of the key reasons for this is the need to ensure the delivery of frontline clinical services to patients.
Pharmacists historically have focussed their professional development on developing clinical capabilities and have not dedicated time to developing their leadership / management, education and research capabilities. These have historically been siloed into specialist roles e.g., area manager, E&T pharmacists, academic researcher.
We need to change this mindset and culture. As well as being clinicians, pharmacists are also educators, researchers, and leaders. They need protected time to develop these skills and support others in practice. Time needs to be liberated outside of patient facing activities, so pharmacists can develop alongside other healthcare professionals.
The current lack of research engagement by front line pharmacy team members is demonstrated by applications for NIHR fellowships: only 137 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians applied for NIHR fellowships over seven years (between 2014 and 2021). Eight of these applicants had previously held a fellowship and 15 currently hold a fellowship / had been recently awarded one.
Increasing access and capacity to supervision for Initial Education & Training reforms
Having PLT for pharmacists will increase capacity within the system for practice and educational supervision.
By 2025/2026, pharmacists will be prescribers at the point of registration. To achieve this, a rapid increase in experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate pharmacy students and Foundation pharmacists is needed.
This will require a significant increase in workplace supervision capacity, especially from designated prescribing/medical practitioners (DPPs). There is currently insufficient capacity within the system to support this increase.
Without PLT being part of everyday practice, allowing pharmacists to develop their supervision capabilities through engagement with the RPS curricula education domains, and RPS DPP competency framework, the Initial Education and Training Reforms for pharmacy are likely to fail.
Increasing access and capacity to supervision for post-registration education reforms
Patients and the health service need more pharmacists practising at advanced and consultant levels of practice. To achieve this, pharmacists need to engage with RPS post-registration curricula and be assured through RPS credentialing.
Pharmacists need time to engage with their own professional development, but also to support the development of others. Pharmacists need to be observed in practice by others, have time to be provided with high quality feedback to drive their post-registration practice forwards and time to reflect and record their learning in their e-Portfolio.
Without this time to build their evidence and be observed and observe others in practice, it will not be possible for pharmacists to prepare for credentialing assessments and be assured to deliver advancing levels of care to patients.
Pharmacists are at risk of burn out if we try to achieve all this outside of working hours
We know that many pharmacists are undertaking learning and credentialing outside their working hours, which is impacting negatively on their mental health and wellbeing.
We know that many pharmacists are undertaking learning and credentialing outside of their working hours which is impacting negatively on their mental health and wellbeing. Our 2022 Workforce Wellbeing survey showed that 88% of respondents were at a high level of burnout. One of the top issues identified as having a negative impact on respondents mental health and wellbeing was a lack of protected learning time (48% of respondents).
In addition, 41% of respondents stated that they were not given any protected learning time to address their professional development and learning needs. This was particularly prominent in community pharmacy, where 55% stated they were not given any PLT and only 5% of community pharmacist respondents said they were given sufficient PLT.
The top reasons as to why protected learning time was not offered included the expectation to do learning in their own time or to fit learning around workload.