The UK government should allow pharmacy students to access the NHS learning support fund (LSF), which is currently available to other healthcare professions, says the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
In a joint letter to health minister Will Quince, published on 22 September 2023, the RPS, British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) and Pharmacy Schools Council (PhSC) requested that pharmacy students are given equal access to the LSF.
The fund allows healthcare students on preregistration undergraduate or postgraduate courses in England to claim a training grant of up to £5,000 per year plus expenses for excess travel and temporary accommodation costs while on practice placements.
It also offers parental support of up to £2,000 and an exceptional support fund for students facing financial hardship.
Currently, students undertaking courses in dental therapy, midwifery, nursing, physiotherapy, orthoptics, occupational therapy, radiography, speech and language therapy and paramedics can access the LSF. Pharmacy students are not eligible for the fund.
The letter — signed by Tase Oputu, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board; Nonyelum Anigbo, president of the BPSA; Ruth Edwards, a representative for the PhSC on the RPS assembly; and Katie Maddock, chair of the PhSC — asked for pharmacy students to have equal access to government funding, starting with financial support for travel and accommodation for clinical placements as a “positive first step”.
Without appropriate funding, pharmacy students could be blocked from “wider learning experiences, instead concentrating placements closer to the university and further widening disparities across England’s regions”, the letter said.
“Given that extensive clinical placements are required to deliver the new learning outcomes, there is a real risk that this placement activity will be curtailed by financial constraints.”
Oputu commented: “As pharmacists are playing a more clinical role in the health service, it seems more and more unjust that pharmacy students are excluded from the financial support they deserve.
“If we are to attract and retain the pharmacists we need to meet demand, this inequity at the very start of their career journey must be addressed.”
In a press release published on 1 September 2023, the UK government said it was increasing financial support for healthcare students, but it did not announce any support for pharmacy students.
The ‘NHS long term workforce plan’, published on 30 June 2023, said that education and training places for pharmacists need to grow by 31–55% to meet the demand for pharmacy services.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The LSF is only applicable to courses which were within the scope of the education funding reforms in 2017, which did not include pharmacy courses.
“Since 2010, the number of registered pharmacists in England has increased by 82% and through our ‘NHS long term workforce plan’ we have committed to expand training places for pharmacists to almost 5,000 by 2032, alongside expanding training for pharmacy technicians via the apprenticeship route and exploring a pharmacist degree apprenticeship.”