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Apprenticeships in pharmacy: be careful what you wish for

Aamer Safdar

The proposed apprenticeship for a pharmacist has come out of the blue for many of us and there have been lots of views on social media. Some of these views have been measured, factual and correct whilst others are scaremongering and ill-informed.


I have been asked to provide some thoughts in this short article.


It is important to note that the apprenticeship proposal is for England only. Apprenticeships are employer-led and a ‘trailblazer’ must have the support of ten employers for it to be considered. In my mind, there are three key stakeholders in this proposal which, in order of priority are:


  • Students.
  • Employers.
  • Training providers.


Students will be the most affected as they will be the ones who will be studying pharmacy in the form of an MPharm degree. This will not change as the only way to register as a pharmacist is to complete training which is accredited and regulated by the GPhC including passing the registration assessment. Students currently pay £9,000 per year to study for their degree and, in their pre-registration year are paid between £18,000 to £26,000 depending on the sector and location of where they work.


The proposed apprenticeship would mean that students will no longer be paying for their education and will instead be paid the minimum wage, or more should an employer wish to do this, for them to complete their training and be debt free on completion.


Employers will also benefit from this proposal but will also potentially lose out. The benefits for large organisations with a staff cost of £3 million and over is that the government top slices 0.5% of their overall staff budget and puts this into an apprenticeship levy. Employers can then use this levy to fund training and staff who are involved in the delivery of the training as long as it is part of an apprenticeship. Speaking from a hospital pharmacy perspective, the important issues for us to consider include the cost of the wages for apprenticeships as they will need to come from our internal budgets.


As all apprenticeships are paid a similar amount, there will be no differentiation between a level 2 apprenticeship wage and a level 7 one which needs greater consideration and thought.


Currently, Health Education England provides salary support for pre-registration pharmacists and the proposed realignment of salary support, which has been paused for a year, has led to many hospitals deciding to decrease the number of trainees they would be able to afford. If this apprenticeship has a workplace-based learning in practice requirement, as per the GPhC proposal in its Initial Education and Training (IET) for pharmacists, this could be up to 50% of the course total. This would mean that hospital employers will have to consider the capacity they can absorb into the workplace with an appropriate educational infrastructure being required, and coming at a cost, and it is potentially likely that there will be a reduction in the number of students they can absorb.


Employers will need to enter into partnerships with training providers which may result in local relationships being developed and less movement of students across the country.


Training providers will typically be current universities who are accredited by the GPhC to deliver an MPharm degree and any new entrant into the market will have to adhere to the GPhC IET standards and achieve accreditation. They will lose out on the current student fee of £9,000 per student if the apprenticeship comes in and, as the pharmacy schools council has already identified the need for additional funding to meet the requirements of the IET if the MPharm is to be increasingly clinically focused with more placements, the funding issue is an important one. Some of the funding could come from the employer levy but it will be down to the employers if they want to spend their levy in this way.


Hospitals have a range of different health and care professionals and there is no guarantee that they will consider pharmacists to be a priority given current the shortfall of nurses.


My experience of being on a trailblazer is that it takes a very long time to develop the standards and the endpoint assessments, all of which have to be approved within an apprenticeship framework. This proposal being put forward is the first stage of the process to identify if there is a need to develop this type of apprenticeship for pharmacists.


I personally have mixed views given the GPhC IET consultation has concluded and the news of this apprenticeship has broken after it has closed. I think this will be a lot of work and may create instability for students and employers in particular when we need to create an ever-increasing number of pharmacists going forward.


Aamer Safdar is a hospital pharmacist in a large London teaching hospital and a member of the GPhC Council. He is writing in a personal capacity. 


Read the proposal below


You can respond to the consultation on the proposal here.


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