More than a third of preregistration places in community pharmacy were left unfilled — rising to 50% in some medium-sized businesses — under a new national application system designed to improve the recruitment process.
All hospital preregistration places due to commence in August 2018 were filled in England and Wales, according to an evaluation of the new system that was introduced in 2017 to help prevent variations in recruitment.
The overall fill rate across the different sectors was 75%, according to an analysis by Health Education England (HEE) – the organisation responsible for NHS workforce training and development.
Some 12% of eligible preregistration applicants failed to obtain an offer. In total, 60% of preregistration places offered were accepted by pharmacy graduates, HEE found.
Under the new system, applicants submit a single application for a training post using the Oriel IT system. They are then offered their highest preferred place depending on the results of their performance at an assessment centre.
The HEE report said that the system was “effective”, “fair” and supports those applicants who perform well and exceed the necessary interview scores that allow them to stay in the selection process.
The agency said it will now prioritise working with the community pharmacy sector to see how it can improve the fill rates.
It intends to change the format of the assessment numeracy and situational judgement tests from a paper-based format to an online process in 2018 on the grounds that it will improve applicant experience and make the system more efficient.
It also announced a new ‘enhanced preferencing’ feature. From 2018, graduates will be allowed more time to make changes to the preregistration programmes they want to join — the current three-week window in August will now be extended to the end of October. New selection centre venues are also planned for 2018.
HEE intends to look in more detail at graduate engagement and “behaviour” during the recruitment process.
The report said: “A greater understanding of participation factors, preferencing behaviour and subsequent decisions about training place offers will support identification of key influences and interventions for better outcomes.”
Ash Soni, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said there were probably several factors behind fewer places being filled in community compared to hospital pharmacy.
“I have heard a lot of [pharmacy] students reflecting on some of the national language, and [they have] not seen community as clinical in the same way as hospital, and therefore, given the undergraduate training, this is likely to lean them to a hospital placement,” he said.
“The difficulty is there are likely to be a number of conflating issues here so it’s difficult to be sure of the reason or reasons, but we should monitor this going forward and carry out further research and analysis into those reasons and then see how to address them.”
In a statement, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the organisation that represents community pharmacy, said the system for recruiting preregistration pharmacists must be “optional, flexible and fair”.
“The focus must be on what works for students, pharmacies and ultimately patients, not the convenience of administrators who may prefer a one-size-fits all model,” it said.
“There is clearly a need for deep reflection on why the fill rate for community pharmacy, and certain sub categories of pharmacy business, was low in the first year.
“If the system cannot be made to work equally well for all pharmacies, it follows that other recruitment options should remain open, as a matter of fairness as well as practicality.”
According to the HEE report, it is mandatory for all hospitals with HEE-funded preregistration places to use the new system to fill vacancies but it is optional for community pharmacies that have preregistration places funded by NHS England.
In November 2017, a survey carried out by the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association found that just over half of pharmacy students rated their experience with the Oriel system as either “poor” or “very poor”.