New funding for Pharmacy Professionals Incubator to boost pharmacy research expertise

Written by | 11 Jun 2023 | Pharmacy Services

The University of Leicester is to host the Pharmacy Professionals Incubator, funded with £120,000 from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). Professor Debi Bhattacharya from the University of Leicester School of Healthcare will lead the new Pharmacy Professionals Incubator, a collaboration of nine Universities across the UK, several hospitals and community pharmacies working with patients and members of the public.

Professor Bhattacharya said: “Pharmacy is the third largest health profession in the UK and pharmacists are the experts in medicines. However, they are awarded only a tiny fraction of NHS research funding. Given that medicines are the cornerstone of health treatment, we are delighted that the NIHR has awarded three years of funding to boost research within the pharmacy profession.

“Our incubator team comprising members of the public, researchers, research funders, practitioners and employers will be working with a wide range of stakeholders to design new ways to support pharmacy professionals to do research, and implement those across the UK.”

IMI spoke to Professor Bhattacharya to find out more details.

“We are thrilled that NIHR has recognised that pharmacy needs this kind of support” she said, noting that several other professional groups have had incubator funding for some time.

Although pharmacy is a science-based profession, research is not seen as a core part of the hospital pharmacist’s job – it is not integrated into pharmacists’ early careers, relative to other clinical team members, there has historically been limited funding and the benefits to patients are not widely recognised. The situation in community pharmacy and primary care is even bleaker. This is important because failure to recruit community and primary care pharmacy teams to support research can mean that new service developments may not be tailored to the needs of the communities that they serve.

The work of the incubator will focus strongly on what is needed at the ‘coal face’. “In the first year we will work with pharmacy professionals across all sectors – the aim is to end up with a pharmacy team that is ‘research savvy’”, she says.

The work will start by bringing all the stakeholders together and identifying the barriers and enablers to pharmacy professionals engaging with research and then co-designing strategies to tackle the barriers and maximise the enablers. In spite of what people say it is not just a question of time and money – there are many other factors at play, such as balancing the demands of family life, caring responsibilities and employer priorities.

The next stages will involve implementation of the new strategies and evaluation. “By the end of three years we want to be able to demonstrate more pharmacy professionals engaged in research and increased capacity for research in the sector”.  Moreover, the patient experience is also important. “Being involved in a research project can be a really positive experience for patients”, she comments.

Professor Bhattacharya envisages opportunities for pharmacists and technicians to be involved at different levels of research. The incubator is not about training everyone to write grant applications, she emphasises. One example of another type of research activity is participant recruitment. In a recent study run by her team, community pharmacists recruited over 600 participants. The process took 20 minutes per patient and the pharmacy received a fee in return. “Nobody should ever be doing this for free!”, she says.

NIHR will fund 10 Incubators from next year to support academic research career capacity in areas where there is a national need.

NIHR Incubators were established in 2018. They encourage networking, training and career development support for health and care professionals.

About Professor Debi Bhattacharya

Professor Bhattacharya leads a research team that focuses on applying behaviour change methods to improve health outcomes.  The team works with a wide range of funding bodies and organisations to design and implement behaviour change strategies for patients and healthcare professionals. In addition, she is the director of Leicester’s independent prescribing course for pharmacists.

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