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Workforce plan: Pharmacist degree apprenticeship under ‘consideration’

NHS England (NHSE) is weighing up introducing a pharmacist degree apprenticeship, it has revealed in its new workforce plan.

Published on Friday (June 30), the NHS long term workforce plan set out an ambition to boost the number of pharmacist training places to 4,307 by 2028, marking a 29% increase from the 3,339 training places available for trainee pharmacists in 2022.

It also revealed that NHS decision-makers are giving “consideration…to the potential of a pharmacist degree apprenticeship”.

Read more: ‘A sad day for community pharmacy’: Sector reacts to NHSE workforce plan

It remains unclear what this could look like or when such an apprenticeship could be introduced.

According to the plan, there is also “potential to continue expanding training via the apprenticeship route for pharmacy technicians”.


Déjà vu?


It is not the first time that plans for a pharmacist degree apprenticeship have been mooted, however.

Proposals for a level 7 apprenticeship where pharmacists would train as apprentices on placements hosted by pharmacy employers first emerged in 2019, with the plans backed by a “trailblazer group” of major companies including Well, Boots and Lloydspharmacy.

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

However, plans to introduce the five-year apprenticeship have stalled several times since then, most significantly grinding to a halt at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The employer group reconvened once more in June 2021 to prepare a second draft and public consultation of the proposals.

Read more: Pharmacist apprenticeships: It’s going to take some convincing

But C+D reported in October 2022 that talks had been “paused” once more due to complications around the assessment apprentices would have to take before joining the register.

The plans have proved controversial over the years, with some pharmacists raising concerns that trainees coming to the profession via an internship would not be as qualified as those going through the traditional MPharm route.

Read more: Employers resume pharmacist apprenticeship plans and dispel myths

However, Skills for Health – a not-for-profit educational organisation that oversees the development of apprenticeship standards – has been at pains to dispel various “myths” around the pharmacist apprenticeship.

In June 2021, it “[reassured] the sector” that the apprenticeship standard would meet the same regulatory standards as the MPharm route, that entry onto the apprenticeship programme would “continue to be dictated by the MPharm degree element of the programme” and that participating employers would be responsible for deciding the salaries of their apprentices.

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