Last week, C+D reported that a proposal for a five-year pharmacist apprenticeship scheme was under consultation, which was met by a sector-wide response ranging from support to alarm.
The 10-day consultation, launched by the Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education – an employer-led public body not affiliated with a government department – closed on April 14.
While the finer details of what a pharmacist apprenticeship could encompass, who was involved in drafting the proposals, and how long they have been in development are somewhat patchy, C+D has pieced together what is known about the apprenticeship so far.
What does the pharmacist apprenticeship involve?
The proposal is for a level 7 apprenticeship, equivalent to a master’s degree, where pharmacists would train as apprentices on placements hosted by pharmacy companies.
Laura McEwan-Smith, an expert in healthcare apprenticeships, who sits on Health Education England’s (HEE) healthcare apprenticeship group Talent for Care, tells C+D the pharmacist apprenticeship would be an “alternative” route into the profession.
The apprenticeship is “not designed to replace existing funding [and] training routes”, she stresses.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) says the apprenticeship would still need to meet its learning outcomes and standards in order to be fully accredited, and trainee pharmacists would still be required to pass the pre-registration exam to join the register.
How did the proposals come about?
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education tells C+D it “works with employers to develop apprenticeships that address skills gaps identified by the employers and the sector as a whole”.
Ms McEwan-Smith echoes this sentiment, telling C+D “key drivers” for employers to develop proposals for an apprenticeship scheme include the government apprenticeship levy and “to identify local solutions for pharmacist workforce growth and sustainability”.
Who developed the proposals?
The institute says proposals have been developed with “a range of employers, the professional body, [the] regulator and higher education institutes”.
However, the GPhC, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the National Pharmacy Association, and the Pharmacy Schools Council have all largely denied involvement in developing the proposals.
Meanwhile, Boots, Well, Lloydspharmacy and Superdrug have all confirmed to C+D they are part of the “employer trailblazer group” – a group of at least 10 employers “that come together as the creators and early adopters of new apprenticeship standards”, according to the institute’s website.
Professional bodies and trade associations can also be members of the “trailblazer group”, but do not count towards the total of employers.
Details of which employers and pharmacy bodies are part of the trailblazer group are not currently available. However, the full list of employers will be published once the standards have been approved.
How have pharmacy bodies reacted?
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) called on its members last Friday (April 12) to reject the proposals, on the basis that an apprenticeship would result in a “reduction in standards and deprofessionalisation”.
“The profession has not been widely engaged or consulted as to whether it wants an apprenticeship to be introduced. On that basis alone it should not proceed,” the PDA stressed.
The association plans to hold a meeting with the institute “as soon as possible after Easter” to discuss the proposals, which representatives from other pharmacy organisations will be invited to.
While the institute has implicated the GPhC in the development of these apprenticeship proposals, the regulator has distanced itself from involvement.
The GPhC tells C+D it has not contributed to drafting them, but “attended two meetings to explain regulatory requirements”.
In response to the consultation, the regulator has urged the institute to “hold a further and more detailed consultation for a longer period if the proposals move forward, to enable everyone with views on the proposals to fully contribute”.
The RPS has also expressed concern over the “lack of communication” of the processes for the development of the apprenticeship proposals.
It has called on the “trailblazer group” to “provide further details that will enable us and our members to better understand the deliberations that have taken place to date”.
News of the consultation, which the institute says was “circulated to stakeholders and representative groups”, was met with a range of comments and reaction on social media ahead of last Sunday's deadline.
Apprenticeships can provide great career starts in many sectors, pharmacy isn't one of them. The level of knowledge and skill required to be able to work as a pharmacist can't be achieved without a structured and standardised, university level of teaching. https://t.co/RUV7Yt3dog— Emma boxer (@Emmaboxer4) 12 April 2019
Please respond to this absurd consultation proposing Pharmacist Apprentices. I’m proud to be a pharmacist and part of that is pride in studying for an MPharm and getting through that prereg exam which is no walk in the park . *Puts out of office sign back up*— Pharmacist Thorrun (@pharmthorrun) April 12, 2019
What’s next for the proposals?
Now the first stage of the consultation has closed, more than 6,000 responses will be reviewed by a “health and science route panel”, along with the proposals themselves.
The panel will then make a recommendation to the institute’s board, who will make the final decision on whether to move ahead.
The panel – which meets every six weeks to consider submissions from “trailblazer groups” – is chaired by Kirk Lower, a national lead for apprenticeships at HEE's Talent for Care, the institute says.
The proposal states the “target date” for approval is December 31.