Discussions around recent proposals to develop a new apprenticeship standard for pharmacists have dominated pharmacy Twitter over the past week.

However, the whole process so far has been strikingly opaque, with fragmented information coming from multiple sources and a ten-day consultation on the plans – now closed – that was barely publicised.

Here’s everything The Pharmacist has found out so far about the proposal, from who is involved to what’s coming next.


1. What is the proposal?


The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IATE) has published a formal proposal to introduce a five-year pharmacy apprenticeship scheme where prospective pharmacists could train on the job instead of at universities.

Such proposals are employer-led by ‘trailblazer groups’, which must be reflective of the sector and recognised by IATE.

A spokesperson for IATE told The Pharmacist: ‘The Institute works with employers to develop apprenticeships that address skills gaps identified by the employers and the sector as a whole. The level 7 Pharmacist proposal has the support of major organisations across the sector.’

They added that as with all apprenticeships, the costs of training and assessment would be funded through the apprenticeship levy.


2. Who is involved?


So who are the ‘major organisations’ in favour of the plans?


Boots - member of the employer ‘trailblazer’ group

A spokesperson confirmed to The Pharmacist that Boots UK is ‘looking into a pharmacy apprenticeship proposal’ along with other pharmacy organisations and IATE. They added that ‘the proposal is still in the early exploratory stages of consultation and no decisions have been taken regarding the long-term viability for the profession.’


LloydsPharmacy - member of the employer ‘trailblazer’ group

A LloydsPharmacy spokesperson said: ‘We confirm we are part of the trailblazer group discussing proposals for a new apprenticeship standard for pharmacists along with other employers from across the profession. We feel it is important to be part of the initial discussions in order to shape the right solution that is best for both our business and the profession as a whole.’


Well - member of the employer ‘trailblazer’ group

Well’s clinical and professional learning and development manager Jessica Hall confirmed it is part of the group and said the company is exploring ‘different routes to qualification and registration’.

She added: ‘The exploration of new, innovative ways of developing our workforce is vital in ensuring we have a skilled workforce that is fit for the future. Apprenticeship schemes allow you to learn, earn a salary and gain on-the-job experience.

'There has been a decline in university applications in recent years, and with apprenticeships having been successful in other professions, we believe it’s important to research and examine this potential route.’

The Pharmacist has approached Boots, Lloyds and Well for comment on why they made the proposal and what they believe the benefits will be. We understand that some, as yet unknown, acute NHS hospital trusts and smaller pharmacy companies have also been involved in the ‘trailblazer’ group.


GPhC - consulted

A spokesperson for the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) confirmed that it has not contributed to drafting the proposals but has attended two meetings to advise on regulatory requirements.

The regulator responded to IATE’s consultation via a letter sent on Monday (15 April), which stated that the GPhC’s standards of initial education and training are ‘vital’ in ensuring pharmacists are ‘appropriately prepared to deliver pharmacy services’.

It said that any programme would need to be accredited by the GPhC to ensure it meets the standards and any trainees would need to pass its registration assessment and criteria. Every pharmacy professional wishing to practice in the UK is legally obliged to be registered with the regulator.

The letter also said: ‘We recognise that a wide range of views has been expressed within the pharmacy sector in response to this short initial consultation. We would encourage IATE to hold a further and more detailed consultation for a longer period if the proposals move forward, to enable everyone with views on the proposals to fully contribute.’

The Pharmacist has approached IATE to find out whether this recommendation will be taken on board.


NPA - consulted

A National Pharmacy Association (NPA) spokesperson said: ‘We were invited to a meeting with a wide range of other organisations to give our views about an apprenticeship standard for pharmacists.’

Further details will be confirmed soon.


RPS - notified of plans

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) issued a statement last week (12 April) confirming it has not contributed to the trailblazer but was ‘notified’ by the group about its proposal. It added that ‘the RPS has not been involved with this submission. The RPS will be feeding in our views at the appropriate time to make sure the profession's voice is heard.’

The professional body committed to working with its members on whether an apprenticeship is a ‘suitable’ entry route to pharmacy and called for the profession to contribute its views (email [email protected] to have your say).


Pharmacy Schools Council - notified of plans

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Schools Council, which represents the UK’s thirty pharmacy schools, said it ‘was not consulted on the development of the new apprenticeship standard for pharmacists. Our involvement in the development of this initiative does not extend further than being notified of this development shortly before the consultation opened’.

They added that individual schools may have been involved, and that schools’ responses to the news of the proposal have been varied.


HEE – ‘no formal role in development’

Strategic project lead at Health Education England (HEE) Laura McEwen-Smith tweeted on 5 April to raise awareness of the public consultation. She proceeded to answer many questions on the proposal, including whether HEE was co-leading it:

A spokesperson for HEE told The Pharmacist: ‘HEE are stakeholders in the same way as other key organisations and have had no formal role in the development of this proposal.’


3. What stage is the proposal at?


The plans were consulted on between 4 April and 14 April, allowing only ten days for responses.

An IATE spokesperson told The Pharmacist that the consultation was ‘circulated to stakeholders and representative groups’. They added that as well as being publicly available, all IATE consultations are sent to any stakeholders who have ‘requested notification’ and that this consultation was sent to over 1,000 stakeholders including NHS Trusts, pharmacies and training providers.

The Pharmacist has asked IATE to clarify whether the consultation was only sent to those who had requested notifications.

According to IATE’s website, the proposal is now ‘in development’. This represents an ‘early stage’, a spokesperson told The Pharmacist.


4. What are the next steps?


If the apprenticeship occupation proposal is approved, development will begin for the occupational standards and an ‘assessment plan’, which will finally be approved for delivery. A funding band will also have to be allocated.

According to the proposal published on IATE’s website, the target date for approval is 31 December 2019.

A spokesperson for IATE acknowledged that any apprenticeship would need to meet the GPhC’s requirements if approved.


5. What does it mean for the profession?


It is unclear at this early stage what the impact of such an apprenticeship scheme will be for the profession if it goes ahead, but the proposals were heavily criticised by pharmacists on social media, who raised concerns about pay levels and the suitability of an apprenticeship for pharmacy.

It remains to be seen what changes will be made if the proposal undergoes development.