The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has raised concerns about how a proposed pharmacist apprenticeship scheme would be funded at a meeting held by the body in charge of developing the scheme.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IATE), an arm’s-length government body, met with organisations, including the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, the Pharmacy Schools Council and the Company Chemists’ Association, in Birmingham on 2 May 2019 to discuss the pharmacy apprenticeship proposals.
The IATE opened a ten-day consultation on a proposed five-year pharmacy degree apprenticeship on 10 April 2019 after plans had been put together by a Pharmacy Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group. The membership of the group has not been revealed, but it is thought to include employers from across the pharmacy sector, as well as the large multiple pharmacy chains.
Details of the proposal covered just three pages and set out only an “occupational profile” of a pharmacist and their duties. It said any apprentice scheme would be at level 7 within the IATE system, meaning it would be the equivalent of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
The funding for apprenticeships is currently capped at £27,000 for the highest band of apprenticeships. Large firms already pay a levy to the government, which is used to fund apprenticeship schemes. Smaller firms, who do not contribute to the levy, pay 10% of the apprenticeship cost, with the government funding the rest.
Gail Fleming, director for education and professional standards at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, who also attended the meeting, said: “The RPS has concerns about a funding gap and whether it’s affordable, and where the money would come from to resource it.”
In a statement, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association — which also attended the meeting on 2 May 2019 — said it asked the IATE to clarify the membership of the trailblazer group during the meeting, but the IATE said current existing process meant that it could not reveal this information until a later stage.
Fleming told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the GPhC did address a number of concerns about the quality and academic level of the proposed degree apprenticeship at the meeting.
“The GPhC set out clearly what the regulator’s requirements for a pharmacy degree apprenticeship would be,” Fleming said.
“Any degree apprenticeship must meet the GPhC’s initial education and training standards and, in addition, any education programme or degree would be expected to be an MPharm, to meet those standards. That means it would be subject to full regulatory accreditation. There’s no risk of having a programme that does not meet that rigorous assessment level.”
The GPhC wrote to the IATE on 15 April 2019 to make it aware of the regulatory requirements for the initial education and training of pharmacists.
Rhys Llewellyn and Andrew Moy, western area coordinator and northern area coordinator at the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, respectively, were also at the IATE meeting.
“For now, we can’t really come to any position on the idea — we’re at the start of learning exactly what the process is, how it could look, and where it can be for the benefit of students,” Llewellyn said.
Asked if any detail was shared about the structure of the proposed degree apprenticeship, Llewellyn said: “We didn’t get a lot of information at this stage. But in principle it would be five years, with at least 20% of that time in off-site training.”