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Don’t rush decision on workforce numbers, warns HEE head

Practice Health Education England head Sue Ambler (pictured) urged delegates at the RPS annual conference to proceed cautiously to avoid a “risky” decision on managing pharmacist numbers or face living with the consequences for the next 40 years

Deciding how to manage pharmacist workforce numbers should not be rushed due to the risks involved, Sue Ambler, head of education and training at Health Education England (HEE), has warned.  

Although there was no doubt over the need to control the growing number of pharmacists, a potentially "risky" decision could impact on the sector for 40 years to come, Ms Ambler stressed at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) annual conference in Birmingham yesterday (September 8).  

Workforce planning had proved the hardest part of developing pharmacy education, revealed Ms Ambler, who has led the modernising pharmacy careers programme since 2009. The programme board acts as an independent advisory board to the government, and Ms Ambler said it had struggled to address the problem of growing pharmacist numbers.  

"What we sow today, we will be reaping for 40 years to come." Sue Ambler, Health Education England

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"Of all the pieces of work that have had me awake at 4am, it's this one," she told the conference. "These decisions will last for decades and please can we bear in mind that what we sow today, we will be reaping for 40 years to come."

Ms Ambler warned that any important decision on the pharmacy workforce would "take a long time" to reach. "We are all very mindful what we're proposing is not risk-free, so we all have a responsibility to take it seriously," she said.  

"Powerful" data had proven that doing nothing was not an option because it would lead to an oversupply of pharmacists in the market, she stressed.  

Forecasts that the situation would get "worse and worse" had prompted the government to commission the Centre of Workforce Intelligence report, she said. The report, published last week, found that student numbers may need to fall by 15 per cent if England was to avoid a surplus of up to 19,000 pharmacists.  

Mike Hannay, chair of the RPS education expert advisory panel, acknowledged the problem needed careful consideration and that there was no "entirely perfect" solution. But he warned that timing could prove crucial in addressing the oversupply of pharmacists.  

"The challenge around numbers is happening today. If we wait, it's not going to work," Mr Hannay told the conference. "If we get it wrong, it's going to do an awful lot of damage to pharmaceutical care and the profession."  

Last month, the RPS recommended limiting student intake to the number of pre-registration places available.

What impact has the increasing number of pharmacists had in the area in which you practise?

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