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DoH-commissioned review predicts oversupply of pharmacists

By News team

Pharmacy student numbers in England may need to be cut by around 10 per cent in future to match supply of graduates to demand for pharmacy posts, according to the conclusions of a review of the pharmacy workforce published yesterday (2 September 2013).

The report, by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, coincides with publication of a review by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and Health Education England, which could herald a major overhaul of pharmacy education and training.

Together, the two reports, now out for public consultation, will influence the shape of the pharmacy workforce over the coming decades.
The CfWI report makes it clear that “intervention” to bring the supply and demand of pharmacists into balance is the only answer to prevent a future glut of qualified pharmacists with no jobs to go to.

It is recommending a staged approach across “multiple years” to reduce pharmacy numbers either when students enrol onto the MPharm degree or at the point of preregistration training.

Although it fails to recommend a specific reduction in student numbers, it does say that a cut in undergraduate places of around 10 per cent will bring supply and demand into balance by 2030.  

The CfWI says that the balance between the size and duration of the staged intervention is “paramount”, and recommends ongoing annual monitoring of supply and demand, with a workforce review completed every five years. 

The review from Hefce and HEE comes at what Hefce chief executive Sir Alan Langlands describes as a “pivotal moment” for pharmacy education and training.

Hefce and HEE put forward three options for consultation. 
The first option is to keep the status quo so that the market continues to determine the number of pharmacy graduate places, which have increased from 1,390 in 1998 to 3,100 in 2012, with the number of pharmacy schools rising from 12 in 2002 to 21 today.

The second option is to restrict the number of students enrolled at each university MPharm programme. The third is to introduce a “break-point” on the degree course — where, the report suggests, students would have the choice to leave with a science degree after three or four years or to continue their study to qualify as registered pharmacists.

The Hefce/HEE report says the proposals are “deliberately wide-ranging and high-level” to ensure a sustainable approach to the future supply of pharmacy graduates in the long term.

Market should not determine future student numbers

Dave Branford, chairman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, said that the CfWI proposals reflect RPS recommendations for the future of the workforce. “We have flagged this up as the number one issue for our members,” he said.

But he rejected one of the proposals from Hefce and HEE: that the “market” should continue to determine future student pharmacy numbers. “If we allow the market to continue and allow more schools of pharmacy to open it will take a long time for the market to stabilise, by which time we will have large numbers of students and pharmacists who can’t find work.” 

The proposal to reduce pharmacy student numbers on the MPharm degree programme he said was preferable to introducing a “funnel” degree programme similar to those offered by European universities. “Both options have their own merits but I think the second option would really challenge the role of pharmacy technicians,” he said.  

The Pharmacy Schools Council, which represents all 26 of the UK’s pharmacy schools, welcomed the Hefce and HEE report and endorsed the CfWI’s recommendation that any cut in numbers should be “staged”. Its chairman John Smart said: “This will help secure the student interest and also ensure the financial sustainability of pharmacy schools so that they can provide high-quality education into the future.”

But he said there was a “strong case” for excluding international pharmacy students from any future number controls because they self-fund and many complete their preregistration training outside of the UK.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11125062

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