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Education and training

Five-year pharmacy apprenticeship proposals published

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association has urged its members to reject proposals to develop a five-year apprenticeship scheme for pharmacists because it fears the profession would be shifted from its university-led model.

Proposals to develop a five-year apprenticeship scheme for pharmacists have been criticised as “highly disruptive to the profession”.

The proposals were published on 4 April 2019 by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IATE), an arm’s-length government body, following their submission by the Pharmacy Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group, an organisation representing employers across the pharmacy sector, including the large multiple pharmacy chains.

Details on the plans are sketchy, but an official consultation on the proposals was launched by IATE on 4 April 2019. The consultation is open for responses for ten days only.

Any group of employers that is recognised by the IATE can put forward their own proposals for an apprenticeship scheme in their profession or industry.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), confirmed that some of its members, including large multiples, were directly involved in developing the proposals through the trailblazer group.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association

Source: Company Chemists’ Association

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said the proposals were still at an ”explorative stage”

“Some CCA members are involved in the group, alongside hospital employers, other community pharmacy employers and pharmaceutical employers,” he said.

“The group has been working on apprenticeship standard development for pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians for some time. However, we understand the proposal for a pharmacist degree apprenticeship is only in the very explorative stage.”

Harrison added that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), Health Education England and pharmacy schools “will be engaged in the process” if the proposals are developed further.

However, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has urged its members to reject the idea of a pharmacist apprenticeship scheme because it would lead “to a two-tier approach to qualifying as a pharmacist”.

In its response to the consultation, published on 11 April 2019, the PDA said: “An apprenticeship route for qualification as a pharmacist would be highly disruptive to the pharmacy profession. It would shift the profession away from a professional university-led model to a model traditionally associated with technical occupations.”

The apprenticeship plans were discussed at the GPhC council meeting on 11 April 2019.

Aamer Safdar, principal pharmacist lead for education and development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, told the meeting that he “can’t see it having any legs”.

Aamer Safdar

Source: Nic Bunce / The Pharmaceutical Journal

Aamer Safdar, principal pharmacist lead for education and development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said the proposals were unlikely to succeed

“If you’ve got the threat of HEE cutting funding for [preregistration] pharmacists — which are currently put on hold — if that comes next year, I can’t see employers saying ‘we’re going to do this apprenticeship and this will cost us’.

“A few years ago there was a proposal for foundation-year pharmacists to be an apprenticeship, which died a slow death,” he added.

Under the government apprenticeships scheme, employers are expected to pay apprentices a minimum wage of £3.90 per hour, but they must be paid at least the minimum wage rate for their age if they are aged 19 years or over and have completed their first year as an apprentice.

Employers are also expected to fund university degree fees for the apprentice, through either the apprenticeship levy for large employers or a similar co-investment scheme with the government for smaller employers.

The apprenticeship levy already sees large employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3m contribute to the training of apprentices.

Also speaking at the GPhC’s council meeting, Mark Voce, its interim director of education and standards, said that if these proposals were taken forward the GPhC would be involved “as it is on any situation where, for example, a university was setting up a degree”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206422

Readers' comments (5)

  • Unbelievable! Its the end of our profession

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  • The main opposition to the IATE proposal appears to be the academic level to which any successful apprentice , hence newly qualified Pharmacist, would reach, and I totally agree with that.
    However, my concern is for the individual apprentice.
    IATE appear to me to have proposed a system whereby employers giving the apprenticeship get cheap labour for five years, with no promise of a job at the end.
    Then of course one employer can take on more than one apprentice with the result that at the end of five years there is a surplus of newly qualified , former apprentice, pharmacists which in turn means lower wages for those being offered a job.
    Does that explain the reason for the proposal? or am I missing something.

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  • My father-in-law qualified this way in 1933, 4 years of apprenticeship followed by 1 year full-time at "Technical College".
    I am currently living in Ireland, where up until a few years ago there was a "Qualified Assistant" qualification, using this same apprenticeship route. This enabled the possessor to run a pharmacy "in the temporary absence of a pharmacist" (temporary not defined). This qualification is no longer available!
    To go back to this would be a retrograde step in my humble opinion.

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  • Please reply to this proposal before the end of Sunday. It's a step back for this profession. A profession that seems to me many times, is fighting to be taken seriously by other healthcare professionals.

    The PDA reasoning to reject this idea is on their website and is fully accessible to non members.

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  • It would appear that this apprenticeship proposal for pharmacist training is being driven by Boots. Perhaps Boots sees its pharmacists as performing as (over-paid) technicians and cannot see why they need to be trained to university degree standard to perform their roles?

    When I first qualified as a [community] pharmacist back in the 1970s, [community] pharmacy was regarded as a trade rather than as a profession. Pharmacists dispensed. That's what we did. I was part of a new cohort of university-trained pharmacists who were replacing those who had become pharmacists through apprenticeships. But we were then still just technicians responding to instructions provided by GPs. As part of my preregistration training, I had to learn how to speak with a GP in such a way that would not lead to the GP making a complaint to the regulatory body of the time – the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain – that I was questioning his or her prescribing decisions. And this conversation certainly had to be made without the patient knowing that I wanted to query something on the prescription, for fear of breaking patient confidence in their GP. It was the "Migril case" of 1983 that changed pharmacy from a trade to a profession by establishing that the prescribing GP and the dispensing pharmacist are jointly responsible for ensuring that a medicine has been prescribed appropriately. We thereby became empowered to question prescribing decisions.

    Sadly, I have to report that in my travels as a locum community pharmacist, to this day I see examples of labels on repeat-dispensed items I am asked to check that suggest to me that some pharmacists still do not accept that they have a professional duty to change / upgrade wording on labels if the dosage instructions provided on the prescription are inappropriate or inadequate. "Take one as directed" or sometimes just "as directed" really isn't sufficient for some medicines. And to see the initial instructions for a drug such as pregabalin (where the patient starts with a low dose, then gradually increases the dose over a couple of weeks) repeated monthly for six months or more without changing the instructions to the appropriate higher dose tells a story not only of several pharmacists over that period of six months or more not performing as they should but also dispensary assistants and even technicians not being trained properly by those same pharmacists. If pharmacists can't even ensure that dispensed medicines are labelled properly, what else are they not doing properly, I wonder?

    If this characterises the way in which Boots sees its own pharmacists performing, then bring on apprenticeships and lets shut down all university pharmacy courses. I would prefer to see pharmacy evolving into a branch of medicine with all pharmacists being university trained alongside medical students. Such training really cannot be delivered through an apprenticeship. But that is not to say that the first 5 years or so of a pharmacist's professional career shouldn't be undertaken under the direct supervision of a more experienced pharmacist in the manner of an apprenticeship.

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