There has been ‘no attempt made to include the independent voice of pharmacists’ in new plans to introduce an apprenticeship route into the profession, pharmacy unions have warned.

In a joint letter to arms-length body Skills for Health this week (25 November), the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) said they were ‘disappointed and concerned’ by the proposal’s latest progress.

Plans to introduce a five-year integrated degree apprenticeship – where prospective pharmacists could train on the job rather than through the traditional university-led model – were first revealed in April.

The employer-led plans were shelved in May following widespread criticism, including concerns about a dearth of transparency and a lack of diversity among the range of pharmacy employers involved.

Last month, it was announced that an updated pharmacy apprenticeship proposal is in development that will ‘take into account’ the concerns raised by the sector last time the idea was mooted.

A spokesperson for Skills for Health – which was commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) to support the apprenticeship’s development – said it is not the role of the organisation to decide who is consulted or whether the proposal should be made a reality.

They said: ‘It is a matter for the employer [group] chairs and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IATE) to ensure that there is appropriate representation on the group that will develop the apprenticeship standard.’


‘Disappointed and concerned’


The PDA and GHP letter said: [We] are disappointed and concerned that while business owners and NHS employer organisation are included, no attempt has yet been made to include the independent voice of pharmacists… to the development of a pharmacist apprenticeship.’

Both organisations were present at an initial stakeholder meeting – facilitated by the PDA – in May and another stakeholder event in July to discuss the proposals, it added.

The unions called on Skills for Health and the employer group developing the proposals to confirm they will listen to the views of ‘individual pharmacists’ by engaging with the two organisations before the consultation period – due to start in 2020.

A spokesperson for the unions said: ‘Excluding the voice of rank and file pharmacists from the process until the final consultation is what caused the significant negative response to the first proposal.’

In April, the ten-day consultation on the initial plans garnered more 6,000 responses after the PDA urged pharmacists to have their say.


Underlying motivations?


The letter said: ‘Our members have concerns about the underlying motivations for this proposal and are also concerned about the negative effect a poorly devised and delivered apprenticeship would have upon the profession as a whole.’

The spokesperson added that the trade unions ‘cannot support the proposal unless and until’:

  • ‘There are realistic assurances that apprentices will enjoy robust, well rounded and effective education and study that meets the GPhC requirements for an MPharm course;
  • ‘The training will allow apprentices adequate time for revision, self-directed learning and rest;
  • ‘[It] will most importantly produce registrants who, while being at no material disadvantage compared to registrants educated via the traditional route, will not threaten the status, resilience and viability of the profession as a whole.’

Last month, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) warned that there are ‘serious risks’ if appropriate funding is not secured alongside the new proposals and that they ‘must have support from all sectors of practice’.