Pharmacy Unions express concern at pharmacist apprenticeship proposals


The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) have published a joint statement about the renewed Pharmacist Apprenticeship proposal process on 25th October 2019.


The statement is as follows.


“The PDA and Guild of GHP received notification of a renewed Pharmacist Apprenticeship proposal process on 25th October 2019.


“As the two independent trade unions for the profession, we represent the interests and views of individual pharmacists.


“We led the reaction to the previous attempt to develop a proposal for an apprenticeship and the PDA was instrumental in activating over 6,000 pharmacists to respond to the consultation on that proposal. At the invitation of IFATE, the PDAU then facilitated the initial stakeholder meeting at which the GHP was also an active participant.  It became apparent that after that scrutiny the initial proposal was abandoned.


“Both organisations were also present at the stakeholder event in July, however, the latest process and communication makes no reference to listening to the voice of pharmacists. We are concerned with this new proposal and have invited the employer group to confirm that they intend to engage with us as they proceed, since 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.


“We know that many pharmacists have concerns about the underlying motivations for this proposal and are concerned about the negative effect a poorly devised and delivered apprenticeship would have upon the profession as a whole. Many of our respective members are current employees in the employer group organisations and may well have very pertinent contributions to make.


“As representative unions, we understand the environment in which pharmacists work and have an informed opinion on the suitability of such conditions and the impact they may have on professional learning in the workplace. This impact may be beneficial, but can be negative, particularly in some commercial settings. Therefore we cannot support the proposal unless and until there are realistic assurances that apprentices will enjoy robust, well rounded and effective education and study which meets the GPhC requirements for an MPharm course; the training will allow apprentices adequate time for revision, self-directed learning and rest; and most importantly will produce registrants who whilst 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.


“In the meantime, we feel it is imperative that we represent our members in raising these concerns at an early stage so that they can be taken into consideration by the employer group before any decision to proceed is made.


“We call upon the employer group and Skills for Health to listen to the voices of individual working pharmacists and engage with the profession via our two organisations.  We will be providing further information and advice to members as this proposal progresses.”


Director of the PDA and PDA Union Paul Day commented;


“The apprenticeship proposals could have a significant impact on the education and reputation of pharmacists and we are pleased to be working together with the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists to stand up for the profession and ensure that the voice of individuals pharmacists will; be heard.”


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Eight reasons I’m glad pharmacy apprenticeships have come and gone

Charles Odiase


Apprenticeships come into existence driven by certain factors, I will comment using the below headings;


Demand vs supply


Presently the demand for pharmacists is way less than the supply, especially as we have a lot of schools of pharmacy. Therefore a new workforce or route to becoming a pharmacist will only be a negative, as this would further compound the issue increasing the risk of unemployment and/or very low wages and poor employment conditions as we have often seen in community pharmacies in particular.


Insufficient workforce via conventional routes


As previously mentioned we have more pharmacists in the labour market than we have jobs, so how would a non – conventional route make the profession better? It would create frustration and drive further poor wages which is simple economics; more supply to demand equals lesser financial value attributed.


Void in workforce/skill required


We already have apprenticeships like the buttercup apprenticeships for dispensary workforce, we have pharm techs so where is the room for further apprenticeship in pharmacy; where was the need identified? This can only lead to further confusion and debates over roles and competences which could harm the already fragile public confidence in the pharmacy profession. Further conflicts within the profession; presently the profession is managing the conflict between Pharm Techs and Pharmacists, and this would only lead to further divide and frustration.


Government interference to take more control


As funding for pharmacy continues to be cut, giving the government room to boycott the profession only strengthens its position over the profession, leaving the profession helpless as there would no longer be a reason for employers and the government to feel obliged to meet the profession’s needs, disapproval and/or demand, as the conventional professionals become less relevant and the apprentices are loyal to their sponsors who are their employers, to the demise of the conventional pharmacist.




There is no precedence for this idea I am aware of from anywhere else in the world, however, we have precedence for those who want to study a medical related professional degree which is simply applying for a transfer or conversion. Surely setting such precedence can only signify the downgrade of the perception of the pharmacist profession not just to our medical related colleagues but to the public as a whole. This isn’t simply a threat on employment or wages but on our colleague and public perception of the pharmacist professional status. It will no longer be a course viewed on par with medicine and the likes, the ever-struggling profession would simply lose its standing position in the room where others have sitting down positions, we will be sent out to stand outdoors in the cold and fringes for good. This could damage the pharmacist brand and this isn’t an exaggeration, we see this already with community pharmacists fighting the perception of simply being box checkers who pharm tech can replace.


Level 7 courses and apprenticeships


The uniqueness of medical related level 7 courses is they make emphasis on the combination of technical and non – technical skills = functional skills training. This takes time and experience 12months doesn’t provide, it is why the nurses are moving towards a degree pathway, it’s why we have advanced practice postgrad courses etc. To suggest that 12months is sufficient regardless of the individual having a first degree is simply an insult to the profession, I can only assume those in support probably never did an MPharm degree and to their defence don’t realise the MPharm degree is not the diploma or BSc degree they completed. Apprenticeships are often used in the social sciences and mechanical courses/fields as these fields depend more on technical skills and less on non – technical skills at their baseline postgrad level. However, in the medical related field I am yet to see this become common place for very obvious reasons such as the need to develop much needed non – technical skills which could be the difference between causing harm or preventing of harm to service users. Apprenticeship is good for less fluid crafts and skills, as often what is learnt is reproducibility not versatility.




Regulation exists to provide uniformed standardisation which is much needed especially in medical related professions to assure public confidence in the profession. Apprenticeship regardless of guidelines put in place will further increase variation, as it offers more regulating powers to employers and other stakeholders whose drives aren’t fundamentally quality but labour acquisition cost. What we would see develop is similar regulatory flaws and loopholes observed during the time of the RPSGB leading to its enforced split. This will further compound the challenge faced by the GPhC which could lead to a further increase in GPhC fees.


Setting wages


How would wages be set as paying the post apprentice the same or more will surely create friction with conventional pharmacists whose training has cost a lot more and been more intense. It would affect the present poor wage structure more negatively.


I do hope for once pharmacists can rally together to wave off this threat to our profession, livelihood, public confidence and further professional divide.


Charles Odiase is an advanced clinical practitioner and specialist pharmacist in obesity and diabetes.


Apprenticeships in pharmacy: be careful what you wish for

Aamer Safdar

The proposed apprenticeship for a pharmacist has come out of the blue for many of us and there have been lots of views on social media. Some of these views have been measured, factual and correct whilst others are scaremongering and ill-informed.


I have been asked to provide some thoughts in this short article.


It is important to note that the apprenticeship proposal is for England only. Apprenticeships are employer-led and a ‘trailblazer’ must have the support of ten employers for it to be considered. In my mind, there are three key stakeholders in this proposal which, in order of priority are:


  • Students.
  • Employers.
  • Training providers.


Students will be the most affected as they will be the ones who will be studying pharmacy in the form of an MPharm degree. This will not change as the only way to register as a pharmacist is to complete training which is accredited and regulated by the GPhC including passing the registration assessment. Students currently pay £9,000 per year to study for their degree and, in their pre-registration year are paid between £18,000 to £26,000 depending on the sector and location of where they work.


The proposed apprenticeship would mean that students will no longer be paying for their education and will instead be paid the minimum wage, or more should an employer wish to do this, for them to complete their training and be debt free on completion.


Employers will also benefit from this proposal but will also potentially lose out. The benefits for large organisations with a staff cost of £3 million and over is that the government top slices 0.5% of their overall staff budget and puts this into an apprenticeship levy. Employers can then use this levy to fund training and staff who are involved in the delivery of the training as long as it is part of an apprenticeship. Speaking from a hospital pharmacy perspective, the important issues for us to consider include the cost of the wages for apprenticeships as they will need to come from our internal budgets.


As all apprenticeships are paid a similar amount, there will be no differentiation between a level 2 apprenticeship wage and a level 7 one which needs greater consideration and thought.


Currently, Health Education England provides salary support for pre-registration pharmacists and the proposed realignment of salary support, which has been paused for a year, has led to many hospitals deciding to decrease the number of trainees they would be able to afford. If this apprenticeship has a workplace-based learning in practice requirement, as per the GPhC proposal in its Initial Education and Training (IET) for pharmacists, this could be up to 50% of the course total. This would mean that hospital employers will have to consider the capacity they can absorb into the workplace with an appropriate educational infrastructure being required, and coming at a cost, and it is potentially likely that there will be a reduction in the number of students they can absorb.


Employers will need to enter into partnerships with training providers which may result in local relationships being developed and less movement of students across the country.


Training providers will typically be current universities who are accredited by the GPhC to deliver an MPharm degree and any new entrant into the market will have to adhere to the GPhC IET standards and achieve accreditation. They will lose out on the current student fee of £9,000 per student if the apprenticeship comes in and, as the pharmacy schools council has already identified the need for additional funding to meet the requirements of the IET if the MPharm is to be increasingly clinically focused with more placements, the funding issue is an important one. Some of the funding could come from the employer levy but it will be down to the employers if they want to spend their levy in this way.


Hospitals have a range of different health and care professionals and there is no guarantee that they will consider pharmacists to be a priority given current the shortfall of nurses.


My experience of being on a trailblazer is that it takes a very long time to develop the standards and the endpoint assessments, all of which have to be approved within an apprenticeship framework. This proposal being put forward is the first stage of the process to identify if there is a need to develop this type of apprenticeship for pharmacists.


I personally have mixed views given the GPhC IET consultation has concluded and the news of this apprenticeship has broken after it has closed. I think this will be a lot of work and may create instability for students and employers in particular when we need to create an ever-increasing number of pharmacists going forward.


Aamer Safdar is a hospital pharmacist in a large London teaching hospital and a member of the GPhC Council. He is writing in a personal capacity. 


Read the proposal below


You can respond to the consultation on the proposal here.


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Pharmacy apprenticeships foray fails at first hurdle


It was announced this week that proposals for a pharmacist apprenticeship standard proposal is not ready to go through to development at this time.


Proposals for apprenticeships in England are developed with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE) and in line with the Institute’s normal practices, the proposal for a pharmacist apprenticeship standard went forward for consideration by the Institute’s Route Panel. This is a Panel of employers with “relevant occupational experience” who make a recommendation to the Institute’s Board who then make a final decision. The Board decides if the proposal can proceed to the development stage. This process ensures all apprenticeship standards are of the highest quality and in line with employer demand.


At this point the Board has acknowledged that “pharmacists” meet their definition of a distinct occupation but recommended that: “the membership of the group developing the proposal should be expanded to include professionals from a wider range of pharmacy sectors such as military, prisons and higher education institutions“; and “further engagement should take place with sector stakeholders during the development of the proposal. The Board has, therefore, decided the proposal is not ready to go through to development at this time.”


Paul Day, Director of PDA said


“If the employer group intends to try again to progress their plans, we believe they should first identify themselves and approach their proposal with the level of transparency which the profession deserves.  Simply adding more anonymous members to an existing anonymous group is not going to improve the credibility of the proposal or the process. If Employers, or others, continue to seek to progress this idea, the PDA will continue to work with other stakeholders to discuss the proposals and keep our members advised of developments.”


Gail Fleming, RPS Director for Education and Professional Development said:


“We are delighted that the need to listen to the profession has been recognised. It is important to ensure that all pharmacy sectors have a voice. We will continue to work with our members to make sure that their views and concerns are heard.”

Community Pharmacy Scotland oppose apprentice proposals


Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) has voiced its opposition to new plans to introduce a new five-year year apprenticeship as an alternative to the existing degree-only route to qualifying.


Consultation on the proposal, which has been put forward by a group of pharmacy employers, was ‘not well advertised’ and too short for interested parties to answer key questions, CPS says.


CPS goes on to claim that while ‘we do not necessarily oppose the creation of apprenticeship standards in this occupation’ this proposition is ‘not well enough developed to allow us to make a key decision’.


Pharmacists could enter through the profession through a five-year apprenticeship instead of the usual degree route under the plans being reviewed by the UK Government’s Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education. Currently, pharmacists in Scotland undertake a four-year degree followed by a year of training.


Apprenticeship policy is devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning the standards, if approved, would only apply to England.


Regardless, CPS has serious concerns about how the plans were drawn up:


‘The introduction of an apprenticeship model would be a step-change in how people enter the profession, and all affected must explore and appreciate the implications of this. That the proposal appears to have been developed in relative isolation is to its detriment, as we must understand what the impact upon the profession, the public, patients, prospective students, higher education institutions or employers in a wider sense are, and a short consultation which is not advertised will not provide this.’


Elsewhere, it warns the plans do not include enough formal training to ensure apprentices will have ‘the appropriate minimum underpinning knowledge’.


CPS says it cannot support the apprenticeship ‘without further detail’.



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To say that ‘pharmacists are not required to diagnose and manage medical care’ is just plain wrong

Jack Wright


For a profession notoriously resistant to change, pharmacy has had a lot to adapt to recently.


Judging by the reactions of horror on Twitter, the latest suggestion, of apprenticeships leading eventually to working as a pharmacist, is a bridge too far.


I am sceptical, but I also have the benefit of actually having read the, admittedly limited and poorly-written, literature on the proposals. I would suggest that this is something that those so quick to comment online actually do.


On one hand, I am conscious that a lot of the work I do on a day-to-day basis could easily be undertaken satisfactorily by a robot, or even more competently by a good accuracy checking pharmacy technician.


Do I fear these developments?


No. This is because I recognise that practising as a pharmacist requires a broad knowledge of many areas including ethics, law and pharmacology. It requires excellent communication skills, financial competence, complex high-level decision-making and often intuition which can only be learned from years of experience. I genuinely don’t see how all this could be taught outside of a University setting, without adversely affecting outcomes.


When a patient asks me why the leaflet for Savlon says it can’t be used in those with thyroid conditions, I find myself drawing on many areas of expertise to give a satisfactory answer. I need knowledge of Chemistry, Law, Physiology and Pharmacology at my fingertips.


My training has provided this.


The public expects this level of expertise. They deserve it. They present every day with all manner of ailments and expect you to be able to advise. To say that ‘pharmacists are not required to diagnose and manage medical care’ is just plain wrong.


It is true to say that the current model of training pharmacists has not been completely successful. Despite aiming to create a level playing field, there is a huge variation in the quality of those on the register, particularly noticeable as a gap in pass-rates between sectors. I know registrants who are genuinely worse than useless. I also know several expert technicians who I would far prefer to run my local community pharmacy than some pharmacists, despite lacking the degree-level education.


There is variability in every profession, but ours more than most.


In conclusion, despite not being completely opposed to a change in the way we educate pharmacists, I feel strongly that this is not the way forward. It seems ill-conceived, rushed and poorly planned. The employer-led nature of the proposals immediately raises my suspicions, the absurd and nonsensical tweets worry me, and the fact that out of all our professional organisations only the PDA seems to have a coherent response is frankly saddening.


Pharmacists are naturally worried about an oversupply of registrants and the impact this could have on their salaries in the short-term. This is understandable.


Of more concern, however, should be the effect such changes would have on the profession overall, and how we are perceived by the public. We need a profession which is properly funded for students, contractors and NHS employees.


Giving the go-ahead for pharmacists-on-the-cheap would be harmful to everyone, especially patients.