Why should the pharmacy student numbers be managed differently to other health professions?

So, despite all the evidence painstakingly compiled by the pharmacy profession, ably led by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), our justified expectations of a cap on pharmacy student numbers are dismissed in a few brief sentences by Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities.

According to Mr Clark, a cap is not necessary for pharmacy students because it is government policy to remove student number controls wherever possible to give students greater choice and encourage universities to offer better quality courses”. What utter rubbish. Other health professions (medicine, dentistry) benefit from student number controls, why should pharmacy be different?

In his astonishingly brief letter, Mr Clark states that pharmacy students “can and should benefit from this reform” but, other than political dogma, adduces no evidence whatsoever in support of his assertion. Neither does he explain how the five-year integrated pharmacy training — that all agree is needed to produce fit-for-purpose future pharmacists — can possibly be achieved without matching student numbers to places related to the demand for pharmacists.

I urge fellow pharmacists who oppose Mr Clark’s decision to let him know how you feel. His Twitter handle is @gregclarkmp.

The RPS has been working on this issue for years. We had all the relevant authorities on-side and the consultation that ran in 2013 revealed overwhelming support for controls. In fact, only the vested interests of the schools of pharmacy demurred and they are conflicted on this issue.

I have been agitating for a much wider role for pharmacy in the NHS under the campaign theme “how pharmacy can save the NHS”. On 19 October 2014, the RPS had incredible success in the media arguing for a nationally commissioned, pharmacy-based common ailments service. Significantly, the RPS lined up the medical profession and others behind the campaign.

The RPS also wants pharmacists to have closer links with GPs, access to patients’ electronic health records, increased input to care homes and an increased role in patients with long-term conditions. All these, of course, rely on pharmacists having the right education and skills. We need to attract the very best students to our profession, reward them decently on qualification and not treat them as “expendable cannon fodder”. It seems Mr Clark is woefully ignorant of all these issues and it is down to us to disabuse him. Perhaps the RPS needs to add one more strand to its campaign.

Meanwhile, I am incandescent.


Graham Phillips

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 25 October 2014, Vol 293, No 7833;293(7833):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066898

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