The Pharmacy Schools Council (PhSC) chair is ‘not aware’ of a decline in university applications despite claims to the contrary, The Pharmacist has learned.

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

The proposal was brought forward by a group of employers that included Well, whose spokesperson said the multiple was exploring the apprenticeship in response to a decline in university applications to study pharmacy. The proposal has since been shelved until further notice.

However, the PhSC – which represents pharmacy schools – chair Nigel Ratcliffe told The Pharmacist he is ‘not aware’ of such a decline, or that the apprenticeship is designed to solve a shortage of pharmacists.

Employers may be driven by a desire to benefit from the apprenticeship levy they pay into, but the right motivations must be behind any change – both for employers and prospective students – he said.

He added: ‘It is absolutely crucial that we do not change entry standards and that the people who are wishing to study pharmacy are wishing to do so for the right reasons.’


Who should sit on the board deciding the future of pharmacy apprenticeships?


In May, IATE announced it will not progress the proposal until representatives from a wider range of pharmacy sectors are included in the group developing it, such as the military, prisons and higher education institutions, and further engagement takes places with sector stakeholders.

Mr Ratcliffe welcomed the news and reiterated that any apprenticeship must ensure students obtain a wide range of experience across the full spectrum of pharmacy.

However, he said other stakeholders such as government regulators and most importantly, industry, should also be included.

There is more to pharmacy than the community and hospital sectors, he added, with many different roles across industry, academia, pharmaceutical investment, pharmaceutical journalism, medical information and clinical trials – to name but a few.


‘Future-proofing’ pharmacy education


As well as maintaining the high standards that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) requires for pharmacists to join the register, ‘future-proofing’ pharmacy education is crucial, Mr Ratcliffe said.

While an apprenticeship must not replace the conventional degree route, he added that pharmacy schools will be keen to explore becoming delivery partners if after proper scrutiny the proposal goes ahead.

As businesses they need to remain internationally competitive, especially in an era of Brexit, he added.

He said: ‘We’re excited that there will be a more informed, evidence-based and appropriate discussion than there otherwise would have been.

‘All institutions will be interested if it is an appropriate delivery and it is financially viable.’

However, Mr Ratcliffe is clear that any progress must be taken ‘one step at a time’ and the proposals must first be subject to a more informed debate.


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