Renewed plans to introduce a pharmacist apprenticeship scheme have promised a longer consultation time - but is that enough to ensure independents can sway whether or not they go ahead?
Several months have passed since proposals to introduce an apprenticeship route into the pharmacy profession first came to light back in April. Legitimate criticisms of the plans - mainly the lack of transparency around them and that they were backed predominantly by large pharmacy chains rather than a cross section of the sector - led to their being shelved the following month, with promises to diversify the group of pharmacy employers contributing to the plans and to consult the sector again.
Fast forward to last week (25 October) and the plans are back on the table, set to be developed until 2020, when there will be another consultation on them. However, the employer group overseeing the proposals is almost as dominated by large pharmacy chains as it was in the last round of plans, leaving me wondering why, once again, independent pharmacy isn't getting as much of a look in.
On the one hand, it makes sense that the multiples are taking the lead on apprenticeships. After all, I can't imagine the model working as well in an independent setting, where staff are stretched enough as it is without the additional task of training up a pharmacist from scratch. But it is troubling that a model that could heavily impact the future of the sector seems to be the pet project of just a few large companies, with independents once again largely absent from a decision that could affect the profession for years to come.
True, the finished plans will have to be consulted on before they are made a reality, but given that the apprenticeship model has been raised twice in the space of a few months, frankly I'd be surprised if it didn't end up going ahead in one form or another.
While the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is looking over the proposals in an advisory capacity, it remains to be seen how much it will be able to protect independents' interests on its own. So it seems clear to me that more independents are going to have to put themselves forward to take an active role in shaping the proposals or else face the possibility of accept an unfavourable model being thrust upon them against their wishes.
I hate to heap yet another burden on independents' shoulders, but now is surely the time to act. Whatever your opinion of pharmacist apprenticeships, it's surely better to have a seat at the table and air your views rather than complain of their impact once they have already come to pass. So I urge you to do whatever you can to help - put yourself forward for the employer group, respond to the consultation once it is published, or even provide the NPA with fresh ideas to help it protect the interests of independent pharmacy during planning meetings.
To make it easier for you, we at The Pharmacist will be bringing you all the latest news on apprenticeships. The fight's not over yet.