Hospital pharmacists work in a hospital pharmacy service, primarily within the public sector. They are experts in the field of medicines and are not only responsible for the dispensing of prescriptions but also the purchase, manufacture and quality testing of all medicines used in a hospital. Many hospital pharmacists are qualified to prescribe in their own right.
Pharmacists work closely with medical and nursing staff to ensure that patients receive the best treatment, advising on the selection, dose and administration route. They also provide help and advice to patients in all aspects of their medicines.
The role of a hospital pharmacist can extend outside the hospital with responsibility for medicines in health centres, nursing homes, hospices and general practitioners' (GP) surgeries.
Hospital pharmacists are medicine experts and tasks may include:
- checking prescriptions to ensure that there are no errors and that they are appropriate and safe for the individual patient;
- providing advice on the dosage of medicines and the most appropriate form of medication, for example, tablet, injection, ointment or inhaler;
- participating in ward rounds, taking patient drug histories and involvement in decision-making on appropriate treatments;
- liaising with other medical staff on problems patients may experience when taking their medicines;
- discussing treatments with patients' relatives, community pharmacists and GPs;
- ensuring medicines are stored appropriately and securely;
- supervising the work of less experienced and less qualified staff;
- answering questions about medicines from within the hospital, other hospitals and the general public;
- keeping up to date with, and contributing to, research and development;
- writing guidelines for drug use within the hospital and implementing hospital regulations;
- providing information on expenditure on drugs;
- preparing and quality-checking sterile medications, for example, intravenous medications;
- setting up and supervising clinical trials.
More experienced pharmacists may be involved in teaching, both within the pharmacy department and in other areas of the hospital.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually covered by the Agenda for Change, which allocates roles to set pay bands.
- Salaries for entry-level posts, usually filled by pre-registration pharmacists, typically start at £21,388 (Band 5).
- Typical salaries for junior pharmacist, 'basic grade', rotational and diploma posts start at £25,783 (Band 6). These posts normally involve a two to three-year contract with annual increases up the salary scale.
- Salaries for specialist pharmacists range from £30,764 to £40,588 (Band 7). Promotion to this band is normally possible after two to three years at Band 6. There are fewer opportunities for further progression and it is sometimes necessary to relocate to progress to the next band(s).
- Roles at senior level include advanced pharmacist, consultant pharmacist, team manager and professional manager pharmaceutical services. Salaries can range from £39,239 to £81,618 (Band 8a to 8d) depending on knowledge, training and experience, with salaries for professional managers at Bands 8c to 9.
Some NHS trusts offer an additional cost of living allowance for London and surrounding areas.
NHS staff also benefit from the NHS pension scheme and holiday entitlement.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
NHS hospital pharmacists typically work 37.5 hours a week. Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm with some extra hours and normally involve some weekend and evening cover, usually on a rota basis.
Flexible working arrangements, part-time work and job-sharing are possible. Career breaks may be possible within the NHS.
What to expect
- Pharmacists work in the dispensary and on the wards, with regular patient contact, on a daily basis. They may also work in laboratories and small, sterile rooms called 'clean rooms'. Much of the work involves dealing directly with chemicals and medicines.
- Many hospitals offer accommodation for pre-registration students.
- Jobs are available in most towns and cities but seldom in rural areas.
- Travel within a working day and overseas work are uncommon.
To qualify as a hospital pharmacist you need to successfully complete five years of education and training. This includes:
- a four-year Masters degree in pharmacy (MPharm), which must be accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC);
- one-year's pre-registration (pre-reg) training in a hospital and a registration assessment set by the GPhC.
Most MPharm courses require good A-level grades: an A-level in chemistry and two further A-levels in biology, mathematics or physics. Students may also be considered with A-levels in chemistry and one other science (preferably biology), together with another subject. To find out more search for postgraduate courses in pharmacy. In Scotland, Higher qualifications with a strong emphasis on the sciences, particularly chemistry, are required. Basic literacy and numeracy skills, for example, GCSE grades A to C in English language and mathematics, are also essential.
Taking a pharmacy foundation degree is another possible route onto the MPharm. This two-year, full-time course includes the content of the first year of an MPharm degree as well as work experience placements. The aim is to give students the knowledge and experience to apply for an accredited MPharm place directly into year two. Although it doesn't guarantee a place on an MPharm course, it can be an entry route for those wanting to qualify as pharmacists who don't have the necessary qualifications to go straight on to an MPharm degree. See the GPhC website for a list of accredited MPharm and pharmacy foundation degree courses.
Work as a pharmacy technician will give you experience of the work environment but does not allow progression to hospital pharmacist.
Pre-registration training is managed by a tutor, who is an experienced pharmacist, at an accredited training site. Students must demonstrate that they meet certain performance standards relating to personal effectiveness, interpersonal skills and medicines and health, and successfully pass a registration assessment.
Most trainees study in one sector for the full 52 weeks. However, you can do split training and learn in both a hospital and community pharmacy. It is also possible to undertake joint training where you train for at least six months in either a hospital or community setting and for up to six months in a non patient-facing setting.
It may be possible to undertake pre-reg training on a part-time basis. (You will need permission from the GPhC to do this.)
Students who wish to obtain a pre-reg placement in hospitals in England or Wales must apply by 31 August during their third year of study via the NHS Pre-registration Trainee Pharmacist Training website. A second round of recruitment starts in October to match remaining vacancies and unplaced students. The deadline for this second round is 31 October. There may still be unfilled places after the second round has closed. These are advertised on the website but students should apply directly to the hospital by CV.
Pharmacy students who wish to complete their pre-reg year in Scotland must apply via the Pre-registration Pharmacist Scheme (PRPS) website in the year before graduation. Applications are open on the 1 May and close on the 30 May.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) regulates pharmacy services in Ireland. See their website for details of how to qualify as a pharmacist, including details of the National Pharmacy Internship Programme (NPIP) - the fifth year of education and training to become a pharmacist in Ireland.
Pre-reg trainees rotate between different areas of the pharmacy service, gaining an introduction to all aspects of pharmacy practice, including:
- medicines information;
- training in dispensary work;
- aseptic dispensing;
- inpatient and outpatient pharmacy.
In addition, trainees take residential courses and study days and complete a pre-reg project. Regular assessment and feedback occurs throughout the year and concludes with the registration assessment.
In order to register as a pharmacist you must also demonstrate your fitness to practise.
You will need to have:
- excellent communication skills;
- the ability to work carefully, methodically and accurately - this is vital as mistakes could prove fatal;
- the ability to use scientific knowledge to solve problems;
- IT skills;
- interpersonal skills and a caring and sympathetic manner, as the work usually involves contact with patients on the wards and in outpatient departments;
- a responsible attitude to work;
- teamworking skills;
- general clinical awareness.
Pharmacists with supervisory responsibility also require effective management and leadership skills.
The majority of hospital pharmacists work for hospitals in the National Health Service (NHS).
Some hospital pharmacists work in the private sector for companies such as BMI Healthcare, BUPA and Nuffield Health. They, along with other private sector providers, run care homes for older people and adults and children with mental health, learning or physical disabilities, as well as hospitals and clinics.
NHS trusts may also employ locum pharmacists to work in their hospital pharmacy departments. These pharmacists may work for an agency but some work for an individual hospital or NHS trust on a casual basis.
Look for job vacancies at:
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- C+D Jobs
- PJ Online
- Locum agencies that handle temporary vacancies.
- Websites of private sector organisations.
- National and local newspapers.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is the independent regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in Great Britain and you must be registered with them in order to practise as a pharmacist.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is the professional body for pharmacists and pharmacy and supports its members in developing their professional, practice and leadership skills. It provides a wide range of pharmaceutical events, including courses and conferences, as well as opportunities for online networking.
After becoming a registered pharmacist and obtaining a job, many hospital pharmacists develop their careers by taking a certificate or diploma in clinical pharmacy, which is often followed by an MSc. This is usually necessary to be able to progress to more senior grades.
All pharmacists undertake a wide range of training to support them in their chosen speciality or career path. Training opportunities include in-house training provided by the pharmacy department or hospital, regionally or nationally organised study days or courses, initial speciality training and training in management.
Pharmacists need to keep abreast of developments in drug research, including:
- new drugs that are developed and come on to the market;
- new methods of treating conditions with drugs;
- government and hospital policies for drug treatment.
Further training also forms part of a pharmacist's continuing professional development (CPD). Undertaking and keeping a record of CPD is a mandatory requirement for all practising pharmacists and pharmacy technicians as a condition of their registration with the GPhC.
Hospital pharmacists working in the National Health Service (NHS) follow a structured career progression with opportunities to study for clinical and management qualifications, often supported by the employing trusts.
Upon successfully completing the pre-registration (pre-reg) year, pharmacists normally enter the hospital pharmacy service at basic Band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. At this stage, pharmacists must be registered as members of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).
Newly qualified Band 6 pharmacists usually rotate between different pharmacy services offered by their hospital. These may include:
- clinical pharmacy;
- medicines information;
- medicines management;
- aseptic/technical services;
- dispensary services;
- community pharmacy services;
- primary care;
- radiopharmacy (the use of radioactive materials);
- clinical trials.
Following two to three years' experience, pharmacists may apply for a Band 7 pharmacist position. This is usually a rotational role but with more emphasis on specialising in a chosen area of pharmacy practice, for example:
- paediatric care;
- quality assurance;
- medicines information;
- procurement and distribution;
Opportunities exist to progress further to the role of supplementary or independent prescriber or to hospital pharmacy consultant (pharmacists with special interests) at salary Band 8b-d. There are fewer opportunities in these roles, however, and it is sometimes necessary to relocate in order to progress.
Pharmacists may also take on a role as a tutor by lecturing pre-reg trainees, delivering presentations to other medical staff or providing tutorial support to undergraduate pharmacy students.
Opportunities also exist for hospital pharmacists to undertake locum work.