We wish to offer a different perspective on the recent decision by the government not to cap pharmacy student numbers (
The Pharmaceutical Journal 2014;293:412).
There is a view among some people that not enforcing a cap is a mistake (2014;293:490). In turn, this means the competitive market plays into the hands of some universities in terms of “bums on seats” and the income associated with that. Indeed, some might see pharmacy as a proverbial cash cow with relatively high employment rates post graduation (for now). This has led to an increase in student numbers that may outweigh the employment pool.
Some academics claim that higher numbers of students means competition will be stronger for pharmacy places, in particular for pre-registration places. They claim there will be more quality students in the system. A good student does not necessarily make a good pharmacist.
As part of Kings Health Partners, we are part of the MPharm Admissions Group at King’s College London. We are actively involved with the selection of students entering the MPharm. We are part of the teaching team and support students and graduates applying for trainee places. It would be fair to say we see a broad spectrum of applicants and students.
Kings Health Partners is a popular choice for pre-registration applications so we see applications from nearly all the schools of pharmacy. Although all universities are required to advertise their MPharm entry requirements, we often see applications from students with entry qualifications below the standard advertised. A-levels have little correlation to degree result. We believe more effort should be focused on defining what makes a good pharmacist. Surely an increase in student numbers will mean that more universities will have to accept a broader spectrum of abilities to fill their required numbers? So although the number of quality students will potentially increase, so will the number at the other end if we assume that the quality of students follows a normally distributed curve.
At the point of pre-registration training, the number of training posts will not be in line with the rate of students coming through the system. This has been happening for a few years now. To increase the number of training posts required, the greatest potential is with the independent community pharmacy sector. But there is a problem.
The larger employers have corporate functions with respect to recruitment, training and the like, but the sole proprietor community pharmacy will not be able to do this. We would imagine that, typically, this is where many students will have to look in order to secure a training post and register as a pharmacist. We discussed one case in a recent Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) webinar and, through responses to the recent letter from Martini and Howells (2014;293;428), there was some alarming feedback received from trainees. As NHS finances tighten further, many trainees are now used as part of the workforce and training needs are often ignored or overlooked. The quality of the training is never assessed and the only objective marker is the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration assessment.
We call on the GPhC to ensure that accredited training providers are quality assured regularly. In addition, there must be a requirement to receive and act on feedback received from trainees about their placements and training, with a particular focus on those training providers that are consistently performing poorly. We also call on the RPS and the GPhC to ensure that tutors are required to undertake some form of accredited training before they can be approved as a tutor. The current requirement of three years of working in the sector and evidence of continuing professional development in relation to training is simply not good enough.
King’s Health Partners