The Pharmacy Schools Council has raised concerns that pharmacists will lose out on training placements in GP practices due to the lower clinical tariff rate paid for trainee pharmacists compared to medical students.

The low tariff may lead to competition between schools of pharmacy ‘who may feel pressurised into paying more than clinical tariff for their general practice placements’, it also warned.

From September 2022, pharmacy students were included for the first time on the list of professions eligible for the clinical tariff, paid by Health Education England (HEE) to clinical placement providers.

In order to be eligible for placement funding from the clinical tariff, trainees would need to undertake clinical work within their placement rather than just shadowing or observing a pharmacist.

The prices are set by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Pharmacy placement providers are currently paid £5,000, plus a market forces adjustment to compensate for differencing costs in different parts of the country.

However, placement providers receive £11,937, plus a market forces adjustment, for postgraduate medical students, as well as a contribution to basic salary costs.

The Pharmacy Schools Council said that while its English schools welcomed the introduction of the clinical tariff, it was concerned that the ‘much lower’ tariff payment for pharmacy students compared to medical students would ‘impact on the ability to secure pharmacy placements in this sector’.

It added: ‘The low level of clinical tariff may lead to competition between schools of pharmacy who may feel pressurised into paying more than clinical tariff for their general practice placements.’

It said that it anticipated less of a problem in the three devolved nations, where the tariff payment for pharmacy and medical placement was aligned more closely, although ‘the exact differences in overall placement funding across the four nations is not completely clear at this stage’.

The Pharmacist has approached DHSC for comment.

Aaman Khan, a third year pharmacy student at University College London, said that he had ‘put a lot of time and effort’ into developing specialist skills as part of his course, and thought that working as a practice pharmacist would give him the best opportunity to use them.

He said that he wanted to spend his foundation year placement in a GP practice, but although ‘there are more and more opportunities becoming available’, the placements were already competitive and difficult to gain.

Another pharmacy student, Raffaella Woolmer, who completed a summer placement in a GP practice, said that the experience was ‘incomparable to anything I’ve learnt in a lecture’.

She said that ‘it would be a shame’ if the tariff payments meant that there were fewer placements available to pharmacy students within general practice.

General practice was a popular option among students, as it gave them an opportunity to practice clinical skills relevant to future opportunities to train as independent prescribers, such as home visits, medicines optimisation, and dealing with acute cases, she added.

‘It gave me a really good insight into how extensive the role of a pharmacist in general practice is’, she said.

Ms Woolmer also said that the placement helped her learn how to communicate well with both patients and other healthcare professionals across the system, such as hospital pharmacists.

The Pharmacy Schools Council said that ‘sufficient placements must be made available so that students from all schools of pharmacy can have similar placement opportunities’, and that it was ‘desirable for students and trainees from other healthcare professions to have opportunities to learn alongside and from pharmacy students’.

It also said that pharmacy students should be viewed by training providers as contributors to the workforce and suggested that validation certificates could be used to enable pharmacy students to undertake clinical work like administering vaccines.

It added that, in England, the payment for pharmacy training placements should not be more than that offered by the clinical tariff, and that pharmacy students in general practice should be taught by pharmacy professionals or other non-medical staff to ensure the clinical tariff can back fill the relevant staff positions.