Trailblazer group proposes pharmacist apprenticeship model

A trailblazer group of pharmacist employers has submitted a proposal to develop a five-year apprenticeship scheme for pharmacists.

The submission of the occupational profile to the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IATE), which is the first step in a three stage process to develop a new route of qualification as a pharmacist, was followed by an initial consultation on the proposals over a period of 10 days, via an online survey which closed on 14 April. This initial consultation primarily sought views on whether the development of the standard was suitable, and whether the occupation was in demand.

If the proposal proceeds to the next stages further consultations will also take place.

The trailblazer process, which typically involves around 10-12 employers is believed to include Boots, Lloydspharmacy, Well, a small pharmacy chain, as well as hospital and pharmaceutical company employers.

According to the submitted proposal (which only applies to England and Wales), it was developed in consultation with higher education institutes, the GPhC as well as “the professional body”.

However, a Royal Pharmaceutical Society statement on the proposals said: “We have not contributed to the pharmacy degree apprenticeship trailblazer up to now. We were notified by the trailblazer group that they were exploring this recently.” The RPS has said it would work with members on “whether this form of entry is suitable as a route to registration as a pharmacist.”

It did, however, add that “The degree apprenticeship approach is also being taken by other healthcare professions and has been successful in areas such as engineering in improving the number of people able to access the degree.”

P3pharmacy asked the RPS if it would be responding to this first consultation, whether that response would be made available to members, and if the statement about involvement of the professional body within the proposal was incorrect. However, it said it had nothing to add to its statement.  

P3pharmacy contacted Boots for comment and asked:

  • Why have this route to qualification as a pharmacist been proposed?
  • What are the benefits for employers, pharmacy apprentices, patients, the profession?
  • Who was involved in the trailblazer group (which employers)?
  • Which pharmacy organisations were involved in discussions and when did these take place?
  • If they could provide details about the split between on the job training and university education?

However, the company failed to respond.

Development of this new route to qualification, if approved, would still be governed by the GPhC initial education and training standards for pharmacists, would still result in a degree qualification and require the apprentices to pass the GPhC registration assessment. It is expected that entry requirements to the scheme would be similar to those for pharmacy degrees, with 50 per cent of the apprenticeship time spent in on the job training and the remaining 50 per cent spent at university.

In a letter to IATE Mark Voce, director of education and standards at the GPhC said its involvement in the proposals had been “limited to attending two meetings to advise on our regulatory requirements for any new course.” He explained that the GPhC would need to accredit any programme of education and training to ensure that it met its standards and that anyone who wanted to be registered as a pharmacist with the GPhC had to pass the registration assessment.

The current criteria for people qualified in the UK was successful completion of a:

  • UK-recognised pharmacist qualification (an accredited 4-year MPharm degree)
  • 52-week programme of pre-registration training in Great Britain
  • Registration assessment conducted by the GPhC.

“We would encourage the Institute to hold a further and more detailed consultation for a longer period if the proposals move forward, to enable everyone with views on the proposals to fully contribute,” he said.

According to pharmacy technician Laura McEwen-Smith, who is strategic project lead at Health Education England (which was involved in discussions with the trailblazer group) and has expertise in this area, commenting on Twitter, the drivers for this development, as with other apprenticeship proposals, were: “Mandatory Government tax on large employers that can only be claimed back for apprenticeship training; widening participation – more routes to gain degree and entry into regulated professions; chance for employers chance to grow own workforce.”

The PDA in its response to the consultation said that an apprenticeship standard must not be developed as it was “not an appropriate route to qualification for the profession,” and there was already an established route. Moreover, it said that the apprenticeship would be “led and controlled by employers”, which would create a “two-tier approach to qualifying as a pharmacist”.
The PDA was concerned that it would “shift the profession away from a professional University-led model to a model traditionally associated with technical occupations”, which would be “highly disruptive to the pharmacy profession”.

A response from the Institute Board is expect around 6 weeks after the close of the survey.

Apprenticeship facts

  • The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £3.90 per hour
  • The maximum funding for employers (who pay the apprenticeship levy) is £27,000 over 5 years
  • For other employers a co-investment system means they may only pay 5% towards the cost of the apprenticeship with the Government paying the rest up to the funding band maximum
  • Possibly 50/50 on the job/off the job split.

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