The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us all how important the local pharmacy is in our local communities. The guidance and support provided by your local high street pharmacy has helped reduce the load on GPs and A&E departments, reassuring the public and helping advise and treat individuals during this stressful time. Pharmacists are a valuable resource for our health and well-being in Northern Ireland, and we need more of them. 

UCA-NI Pharmacy Services with training partner Global Horizon Skills, is assisting Community Pharmacy in achieving its much-needed, highly-trained workforce, from pharmacists to counter assistants in order to maintain and develop its services. UCA-NI promotes and supports the professional and business interests of community pharmacies and pharmacists throughout Northern Ireland. 

In order to attract and retain high calibre employees, you have to start with good quality, engaging training programmes.  UCA-NI is delighted to be working with Global Horizon Skills to bring Pharmacy Services Apprenticeships to the community pharmacy network:

“UCA-NI’s vision is to support the creation of a standardised training structure for the non-pharmacist workforce based on local training and assessment. A training structure that will provide excellent training to develop a strong, professional workforce that can deliver high quality pharmacy services to meet the needs of the population of Northern Ireland now and in the future” Adrienne Clugston, Operations Manager, UCA-NI Ltd.

Previously, pharmacies could only access dispensing assistant training via a limited number of providers or through GB-based distance learning courses. Following feedback from community pharmacy employers and trainees, UCA-NI set out to find a solution which would enhance training provision in Northern Ireland and set a benchmark for dispensing assistant training across the community pharmacy network:

“I always felt there was a real need for this type of formal training and qualification for our invaluable support staff whom we rely on to deliver the quality service we expect in our pharmacies. As the workload in the pharmacy is increasingly demanding there is less and less time to engage in sufficient training for staff during the working day so, a structured supported training programme is an ideal solution” Lorna McGrath, retired Community Pharmacist and now GHSkills Trainer.

Working with Global Horizon Skills, we explored the Apprenticeship route which incorporates the BTEC qualifications set as the industry standard by General Pharmaceutical Council. The programme is delivered through a mix of online learning and in-pharmacy tuition with assessments also carried out in the pharmacy. This provides a funded provision offering maximum flexibility and convenience for both the trainee and the business which, in turn, boosts trainee retention. 

However, the most positive aspect in the feedback from previous trainees, is about how knowledgeable and supportive the Global Horizon Skills trainers are. The Level 2 programme was launched in autumn 2021 for Dispensing Assistants, and we have plans to develop a Level 3 programme for Pharmacy Technicians in 2022. All these factors combine to achieve high engagement and success rates:

“Undertaking a course with Global Horizon Skills has made work-based learning an enjoyable experience - these are real people who understand the demands and work pressures that we face day-to-day. I felt so supported doing my training! Doing the course has equipped us with the right skills to help all the patients that come into the pharmacy"  Clare McKenna, Lockview Pharmacy, Stranmillis, Belfast.

“I really enjoyed my time on the course and how much support and encouragement we received from our trainers, Lorna and Joe. What I have learned through doing the course has given me the confidence to put into practice in my workplace” Allison Petrie, Lockview Pharmacy, Stranmillis, Belfast.

Funded training opportunities are available now. To find out more on how you can support your staff and improve training opportunities, please contact Catherine on: or visit