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Pharmacist apprenticeship talks ‘paused not shelved’ after ‘incredibly long delay’

Discussions on realising the plans for pharmacist degree apprenticeships have just been “paused” rather than “shelved”, the co-chair of the employer group backing the proposals has told C+D.

Under the plans, pharmacists would train as apprentices during placements at pharmacy companies. This would offer prospective pharmacists an alternative route into the profession.

Discussions on the introduction of a five-year pharmacist apprenticeship have paused and resumed several times (see timeline, right) since they first surfaced in 2019.

Pharmacist apprenticeship timeline

April 2019: Proposals for a level 7 apprenticeship – equivalent to a master’s degree, where pharmacists would train as apprentices on placements hosted by pharmacy companies – first emerged.

May 2019: Work on plans for this apprenticeship – which were backed by pharmacy employers such as Well and Lloydspharmacy – was paused for the first time.

October 2019: Work resumed a few months later before being paused again in December, when the employer group said more work was needed to “address some of the misconceptions about degree apprenticeships and their relationship to regulated occupations”.

March 2020: Although the employer group met again in 2020, talks ground to a halt again due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

June 2021: The group reconvened to prepare a second draft and public consultation.

But the reason for the latest holdup is due to the assessment apprentices would have to take before joining the register, Vanessa Kingsbury, co-chair of the employer group for the pharmacist degree apprenticeship, suggested at a Public Policy Exchange webinar earlier this month (October 13).

The proposal is “not shelved, it’s just paused”, Ms Kingsbury, who is also CEO of the training company Buttercup, told delegates in response to a question from C+D.

“There’s been an incredibly long delay in the degree apprenticeship implementation,” she acknowledged.

Initially, this was caused by “really poor comms” that led to “misconceptions, mainly that these apprentices would not go through the same undergraduate experience [as pharmacists trained through the traditional route]”, she explained.

“More recently, it’s because of the difficulties in resolving the accountability issues for the end-point assessment, between the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFA),” Ms Kingsbury explained.

C+D has approached the GPhC and the IFA for comment.

Discussions on the apprenticeship are on hold while these issues are being addressed, Ms Kingsbury said.

“What I would say is that the medics appear to have got a degree apprenticeship, so it must be able to be sorted out because they have [done so],” she added.

 

Is community pharmacy ready for apprenticeships?

 

In response to a question from the audience, Ms Kingsbury further eased some concerns about the training model.

“These students are actually going to be at university just like anybody else,” she said.

But while those following the traditional degree pathway will be “travelling the world or work in bars”, apprenticeship students will spend the rest of their time working in a pharmacy, Ms Kingsbury pointed out.

Students will have the chance to work in different sectors such as GP practices and NHS trusts because community pharmacy employers will be funding these apprenticeship degrees, she said.

“I think that can only increase the standard of training within community pharmacy because the students…must be supervised by the school or pharmacy and their continued development and their training will have an input from the training provider, which is actually the school of pharmacy,” she added.

When the proposals for the degree apprenticeship first emerged in April 2019, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association feared this approach might result in a “reduction in standards and de-professionalisation”.

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