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Provisionally registered pharmacists stepped up for us during the pandemic — why are we not stepping up for them now?

The views expressed in this letter are those of the author’s. If you would like to submit a letter to The Pharmaceutical Journal, please click here.

On 23 March 2020, the UK was plunged into fear and uncertainty. During our first lockdown in response to the pandemic, almost all the doors were shut, but not those of pharmacies and hospitals.

And a few days later, the General Pharmaceutical Council announced that the preregistration exam would be “postponed”, which was followed by nine months of confusion, delays and kicking the can down the road.

But during this time, thousands of preregistration pharmacists have been working tirelessly to help support our health service and provide for our patients. They have worked as competent and confident members of our workforce: supporting patients, supporting hospitals and supporting pharmacies. All the while wondering if and when an exam would be announced to decide their future.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with some of these pharmacists, and have been impressed each day by their resilience and willingness to do a difficult job in arguably the most difficult of recent times. They have the faith and trust of their colleagues, and, I genuinely believe, the faith and trust of all the patients they have helped in the past months.

So why now must they prove themselves, again, by sitting an exam delayed almost a full year? They have proved themselves every day so far.

It may be unprecedented to allow pharmacists on the register without passing the exam, but these are unprecedented times. And now, with further restrictions and soaring infection rates, our provisionally registered pharmacists face uncertainty again. Facing the possibility of further delays, not having security in their roles.

I don’t believe anyone who is questioning the appropriateness of the exam this year is suggesting it is removed for good, but the question on many lips is: if our provisionally registered pharmacists have been good enough to do their jobs, act as responsible pharmacists, support our health service and patients until now, why does this ability have an expiry date?

I am thankful for the support and help of each and every one of our provisionally registered pharmacists during this time and, I think, allowing them the title of pharmacist — minus the provisional — would be a fitting act of gratitude from our profession.

Emma Sarah Boxer, hospital outpatients lead pharmacist, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2021.20208720

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