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PDA calls upon employers to support pharmacists with continuous professional development

The PDA follows up on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) policy on protected learning time (PLT) for pharmacists.

Fri 17th March 2023 The PDA

Pharmacists, just like any worker, need to have opportunities to keep up to date with changes at work. Moreover, as part of a healthcare profession, each pharmacist also needs to maintain and enhance their competency and scope of practice through continuous professional development.

The PDA highlights that locums also need to be given opportunities to develop. It is therefore essential, as with many other aspects of pharmacy, that governments and others do not make the mistake of thinking an employer-based cascade can produce a comprehensive way of developing the overall profession. Solutions must also consider the need for locums to be able to develop their practice.

Nevertheless, the PDA welcomes greater discussion on development for employees and agrees that the best practice is for professional development to be part of an individual’s paid working hours. Such an arrangement can be facilitated through measures such as protected learning time, as suggested by the RPS.

The workforce wellbeing survey quoted in the RPS policy included data from retired people, non-pharmacists, and respondents based outside of the UK. The PDA believes it would be better for a report about Great Britain pharmacists to focus on their experiences, but the importance of wellbeing is nevertheless still valid.

An improved level of wellbeing, alongside a sense that employers support greater professional development, could be significant steps in convincing more pharmacists to stay in the profession and be prepared to work for those employers.

The general role of unions in learning and development

Trade unions have an important role in ensuring learning and development for all workers. For example, high on the priorities for the PDA’s first pay settlement with Boots in 2019, was securing the commitment that, “All company-assigned training should be undertaken during working hours. If this is not possible colleagues will be entitled to receive pay or TOIL for time spent undertaking that training, to be arranged locally in conjunction with the line manager”, and this agreement remains in force.

Training and Development is a standing agenda item for consultation meetings between PDA Union and employers.

There is a range of robust evidence about the positive impact of unions in supporting greater access to training and development in the workplace. Union members are much more likely to get regular training and development opportunities in the workplace with the latest statistics (at November 2021) showing that 37% of them do so compared with only 22% of non-unionised employees.

Much of this is down to the role that unions play in negotiating with employers on learning and skills and also the crucial support that union learning reps and other reps provide to widen access to training provided by employers.

There was also a huge boost to training and development opportunities in the workplace as a result of the union learning agenda. The expanding number of union reps supporting learning and skills in recent years, allied with support from the Union Learning Fund (ULF) and ‘Union Learn’,  the learning and skills organisation of the TUC, boosted the number of workers accessing training and development through the union route.

While the Welsh and Scottish governments continue with their respective Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) and Scottish Union Learning Fund (SULF), it remains a great concern that the Westminster government ended their Union Learning Fund (ULF).

PDA Education

The PDA’s own training and development provision provides a mix of virtual and in person learning, and signposts PDA members to additional development opportunities. As well as providing the important skills for trade union representatives and supporting student and trainee members to complete their learning.

The PDA Education team also runs webinars for locums and on particular issues facing members such as changes to IET and redundancy. PDA Education focuses principally on additional development to enhance individual pharmacists’ careers alongside their professional practice.

Through national and international links such as affiliation with the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), the PDA can also connect members with additional opportunities for career and practice development and research.

Protected Learning Time (PLT)

Even in Scotland where community pharmacy businesses are given money to facilitate training, pharmacists report that they are required to undertake training by themselves. This occurs in their own time and at their own cost, sometimes after an eight or nine-hour shift, or on their day off.

Employers have shown they cannot be relied upon to voluntarily provide protected learning time. So, until such time as regulators, or the NHS as the funder of contracts, require it, the existence of PLT is likely to be a matter of contractual entitlement to paid time for undertaking learning which can be negotiated by trade unions.

The PDA invites every employer with whom the union negotiates pay, to agree on commitments to provide PLT.

PLT needs to be available for the widest range of learning, development, and research related to practise and not restricted to any particular curriculum or provider.

Learn more


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The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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