UK pharmacy school admissions increased by 14% in 2021

A total of 4,400 MPharm places were offered in 2021, just a few months after pharmacists were added to the Home Office's shortage occupation list.
University students filling in application form

UK pharmacy schools have recorded double-digit growth in the number of students they have accepted into undergraduate courses in 2021, compared with the previous year.

Data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) on 9 December 2021 show that 4,400 students were accepted onto an MPharm course in 2021, compared with 3,865 in 2020, representing a 13.8% increase. In 2019, 3,575 students were accepted.

This is the third year in a row that admissions have increased by more than 10%. The figures, published in UCAS’s annual ‘end of cycle’ dashboard, also show an 18% increase in the number of applications to MPharm programmes from 18,635 applications in 2020 to 21,995 applications in 2021. There were 18,325 applications in 2019.

A spokesperson for UCAS said that the “vast majority” of these applications and acceptances in 2021 were from people starting the first year of the degree, although they also include a “very small number” of people switching courses.

The figures follow reports of workforce shortages from all sectors of pharmacy.

In March 2021, pharmacists were added to the Home Office’s shortage occupation list, after evidence suggested there was “a national shortage in this occupation due to a decline in the number of pharmacy graduates and increasing demand for their services”.

Following this, a report by the Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group, published in June 2021, recommended that policy makers and professional bodies “undertake a programme of collaborative work to ensure community pharmacy is seen as an attractive career choice for future pharmacists”.

The report also revealed that 9% of full-time equivalent community pharmacist positions in England were vacant as of July 2020.

To combat these shortages, earlier in December 2021, the NHS tendered for a campaign to promote careers in pharmacy and other healthcare professions.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), said he was “pleased” to see the increase in applications and acceptances for pharmacy courses, but warned: “Whilst this is a step in the right direction, we need to ensure that community pharmacy, in particular, is encouraged and promoted to MPharm students.

“We are concerned that secondary care is often seen as the preferred route within schools of pharmacy and work needs to be done to showcase the range of rewarding opportunities that a career in community pharmacy offers.”

Gail Fleming, director for education and professional development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that the increase in applications was “very encouraging”.

“There have been some excellent new resources produced this year to promote pharmacy careers, including the ‘Pharmacy Careers’ website,” she said.

“There is still more that we can all do to raise awareness of the breadth of opportunities that the profession offers, as well as the positive impact that it has on our patients and the public.”

In December 2021, the RPS in Scotland called for more university places to tackle pharmacist shortages. A workforce briefing, published on 9 December 2021, said further investment was needed to “increase the number of pharmacy places at schools of pharmacy in Scotland: a strong pipeline of graduate output is essential”.

“Work is also needed to reduce the current attrition rate of pharmacy students,” it said.

The MPharm admissions data comes as the pass rate for the autumn sitting of the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) preregistration exam fell to a five-year low at 61%, with 584 out of 959 candidates receiving a passing mark.

This was the first time the assessment had been held jointly with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which offers the exam in Northern Ireland.

In November 2021, the GPhC set out plans to meet with universities whose MPharm students performed poorly in the July 2021 registration exam sitting.

Read more: Workforce shortages present ‘major obstacle’ to NHS Long Term Plan, warns PAC

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2021, Vol 307, No 7956;307(7956)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.120417

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