Increased funding set to be given to community pharmacies hosting foundation year pharmacists may still not be enough to cover the additional costs of delivering a placement or trainee salaries, sector leaders have warned.

This week NHS England (NHSE) announced that the trainee pharmacist grant would increase from £18,440 for community pharmacy training sites to £26,500 for trainees in all settings from July 2025. This will come alongside a funded training course for all foundation trainee pharmacists in all sectors and regions.

But while the increase was welcomed by many, some within the sector expressed concern that the funding would still not be adequate, given the need to pay a trainee pharmacist salary as well as cover training and administrative costs.

And they warned that trainee pharmacist salaries could risk falling below national living or even minimum wage.

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), called for employers to pass on the full amount of the extra funding they receive in salary to trainee pharmacists.

While he said that the PDA welcomed ‘any increase to funding for trainee pharmacists’, he warned that the rate ‘still undervalues the current role, let alone the situation once those becoming registrants will be trained to be independent prescribers too’.

And he told The Pharmacist that funding in England ‘continues to lag behind the other British nations’, with trainee pharmacists in Wales already employed on NHS pay band 5 at £28,407 and those in Scotland set to be paid £30,229 from 1 April 2023.

‘As it stands, despite their role, some trainees who may undertakes regular hours of overtime could even be at risk of their hourly rate of pay dropping beneath the living wage or even the minimum wage,’ he warned.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), also suggested that employers would have difficulty meeting the national living wage within the current funding grant.

She said that £26,500 would work out at less than £13 an hour for a 40-hour contract. But she added that ‘with the way national living wage (NLW) is going NLW could be close to that come year 25/26’.

This would mean ‘there will be nothing left for any admin support or internal training for these trainees, and it is highly likely that contractors will continue to have to fund that themselves as they are now', she suggested.

And she told The Pharmacist that while it was good to see the placement funding increased from previous years, it was still ‘a derisory offer’ and ‘not worth anything more’ once inflation was taken into account since the last time the funding was set.

In addition, Tase Oputu, RPS England board chair, also noted that the grant ‘contributes to costs, not salaries’.

And while she said she appreciated ‘the recognition from NHS England that the costs of supporting the development of a clinical workforce in the community sector have significantly increased and will continue to do so as trainees register as prescribers’, she hoped that the change ‘signals the opportunity to further drive up the quality of our trainee pharmacist experience’.

Nick Kaye, chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told The Pharmacist that while the NPA 'broadly welcomes' the announcement, the funding 'does not go far enough to ensure a level playing field with those healthcare providers aligned to Agenda for Change', given that it would be used to contribute towards supervision and administration, as well as the trainee's salary.

'Sufficient financial support is necessary to ensure the highest possible standards of training,' he added.

And since community pharmacy 'remains the biggest employer of pharmacists', and 'given that this cohort will then go on to be the first newly qualified independent prescribers', Mr Kaye said: 'an investment in community pharmacy would be an investment in the future of pharmacy.'

The increase in funding comes as all pharmacists will need to undertake prescribing training as part of their foundation year from 2025.

And NHSE said that community pharmacies who do not have the capacity to supervise prescribing training can use a proportion of the funding to enable their trainees to spend some time in a different setting.

The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) welcomed the boost in funding, which it said ‘recognises the costs pharmacies incur when training the future pharmacy workforce’, and helps to ensure ‘all foundation pharmacists have access to a prescribing environment and a designated prescribing practitioner’.

‘It is important trainee pharmacists across all settings have access to a consistent training offer, and we welcome the announcement that the offer of funded training will be extended to community pharmacists. We look forward to working with the NHS as they scope out this offer,’ Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA told The Pharmacist.

While he said that there was ‘still lots of work that needs to be undertaken to ensure initial education and training reforms are a success’, he said that the CCA was ‘confident that by working in partnership with NHS England we can ensure that pharmacists have the skills needed to deliver advanced clinical services such as independent prescribing’.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England said that the increase in funding and the provision of a funded training programme was 'a welcome step in the right direction and an indication that NHS England has heard the sector’s messages about the inequity of the current payment and its low level.'

But he added: 'We need to see more increases to other NHS funding to recognise the much wider adverse impacts that inflationary pressures are having on pharmacies.'