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Academics slam plans to cap student numbers

Professional Seven professors, deans and heads of UK pharmacy schools have written an open letter to C+D dismissing proposals to manage student numbers as "vague and inadequate"

Cutting student intake across pharmacy schools is "in no-one's interest" and will do nothing to improve quality in the sector, pharmacy school chiefs have warned.

Seven leading professors, deans and heads of UK pharmacy schools voiced opposition to a blanket cut on intake, stressing that funds should be geared towards the highest quality universities, in a letter to C+D this weekend (November 9).

They called on the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to commission an independent review of long-term planning for the pharmacy workforce.

"There is little confidence that any intervention to control graduate numbers will enhance the student experience, graduate capability and patient care," seven academic leaders argued in a letter to C+D

More on the number of pharmacists

Overqualified for the position

England faces surplus of 19,000 pharmacists       by 2040

RPS backs government plans to cap student       numbers

The HEFCE stressed that its consultation on student numbers, launched in September and due to close on Friday (November 15), was the first stage of an "open and wide-ranging process" to manage oversupply.

But the academics dismissed the proposals in it, including placing an annual limit on the number of students who could be recruited onto MPharm programmes, as "vague and inadequate".

They warned that pharmacy schools might be forced to make "uncomfortable" closures and mergers, as seen in the medical profession. This might be the only way to ensure the UK remained "world-leading" and globally competitive in pharmacy education, they stressed.

"While control of graduate numbers by some mechanism may well be required, there is little confidence that any intervention will be applied in a way that enhances quality of student experience, graduate capability and, ultimately, patient care," argued the academic leaders, including the University of Nottingham's school of pharmacy head Clive Roberts and Aston University pharmacy school head Yvonne Perrie.

They called for a survival of the fittest approach, where schools with the highest quality were recognised with greater funding. "We need to acknowledge openly that some school produce graduates whose subsequent General Pharmaceutical Council qualifying exam success rates at first sitting are far below other schools," they said.

The school heads also urged pharmacists to respond to the HEFCE consultation, as it would affect the appeal of the profession to the best students for "decades to come".

The HEFCE stressed that its consultation would establish the principles for how to respond to an oversupply of pharmacists, which would inform further work. The board will meet in February to decide the next steps.

"We do not have a firm view at this stage on the future direction of travel, but we are clear that it will be especially important to consider the impact of any decision on the wider population, patients in the NHS and current and prospective students who wish to pursue professional careers in pharmacy," said a HEFCE spokesperson.

Read the full letter here.

The signatories

Professor Gary Baxter, head, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University

Professor Duncan Craig, director, School of Pharmacy, University College London

Dr Andrew Husband, dean, School of Pharmacy, Durham University

Professor Yvonne Perrie, head, School of Pharmacy, Aston University

Professor Nigel Ratcliffe, head, School of Pharmacy, Keele University

Professor Clive Roberts, head, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham

Professor Stephen Ward, head, School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, University of Bath

How should a cap on student intake be implemented?

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Amal England, Public Relations

There is a conflict of interest on the part of these signatories, they should have no say in this matter. Further, with all that education stuffed in their brain, it beggars belief that they fail to see the purpose of controlling graduate numbers. The signatories are effortlessly vague and inadequate in their opposition, this is inevitable. Did these signatories think about and appreciate that the excess number of students and schools of pharmacy have been very uncomfortable for the majority of the profession. My question to Clive- what would happen if you try to put 20 people, some of whom waited four years, into a car that holds only 5?

John Smart, Academic pharmacist

The Pharmacy Schools council represents heads of schools across the UK, and has made its response to the HEFCE consultation ‘Enabling a sustainable supply of pharmacy graduates: Proposals for consultation (first stage) (HEFCE 2013/19)’.

In the response to question 13: “Which of the three proposed options, or what combination of them, would you prefer..?” that “The PhSC is broadly supportive of the move towards the management of student entry into the MPharm (Option 2).”
It is not therefore strictly accurate to suggest that Heads as a whole ‘slam’ plans to manage entry into Pharmacy education. As I am sure you appreciate, this is a very difficult issue for Heads of school, as it could directly affect the future development, or indeed perhaps the survival, of individual schools. The PhSC response therefore states that this support “is not unanimous with some members seeing merits in Option 1.” and “The Council remains concerned about the detail of how Option 2 may be achieved, particularly with regards to: timescales, numbers, and method of allocation and its support is conditional on how these concerns would be resolved”.

There remain significant concerns about the future regardless of which option is adopted and the Pharmacy Schools Council is keen to continue to be actively engaged in future discussions.

Paul Reader, Non healthcare professional

It appears that a pharmacy degree will soon have the same value as, for example, one in "Media Studies". The RPS and PDA should make an effort to let school teachers responsible for "Careers Advice" (if such still exist) know about this situation as well as that of Pharmacy in general..

Henry Legat, Community pharmacist

What exactly would be so wrong with mergers and closures, other than a few academics at poor quality schools losing their jobs?

Poorly performing schools close, others combine their academic expertise to offer better teaching to a reduced number of students. Sounds good to me.

michael mustoe, Community pharmacist

Only a group of inward-looking academics could disregard such an overwhelmingly obvious problem. Student numbers must reduce to a number which more closely matches market, thats market, needs!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Maybe a different perspective would be better. Rather then thinking there are too many pharmacists for the industry, perhaps a solution would be to look at doing more with the pharmacists you have available to you.

Pharmacists such as yourselves aren't just there to check prescriptions all day, every day. You're clinical professionals, experts in medicine. A pharmacist doesn't need to run a pharmacy all day, they could be say...visiting patients at home, optimising medications, reviewing prescribing practices for better clinical and financial benefact.

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

dream on....i wish maybe in an ideal world but with 1000 items a day to do i dont see myself doing those other things.....

the whole model needs to be changed and clinical services rembursed more.....


Angelique Dunne, Community pharmacist

Benjamin, I would love to be doing other things than checking prescriptions for 8 hours a day, in fact what you suggest sounds like my ideal job!
The problem I see is many employers see Pharmacists as an expensive (but necessary)luxury and therefore only want to have 1 per store/shift, and not always backfilling ACT into some branches to ease the checking backlog, so someone still has to do that!
This in my opinion leads to less flexibility in both ones working pattern and workplace stress, even when the Pharmacists are there, no one wants to pay for more than the bare minimum number of hours!!!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Angelique, I totally agree with you there. If money wasn't an issue then workplace stress and services actualization could be solved overnight. I truly believe this. Reminds me of a saying, which I'll moderate for on here:

"If you act cheap, then expect the worst portion."

Angelique Dunne, Community pharmacist

How times have changed! I remember when I first went to Uni the RPSGB went a bit mad as Sunderland took in too many students onto the Pharmacy degree that year. Who are they kidding??
Salaries are being driven down in a race to the bottom as the employers can afford to be a lot more picky and we all have less say on our working conditions. More gradutes will only make things worse for everyone, themselves included.

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager


John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

IDIOTS the rate limiting sytep is the pharmacy PRE-REGISTRATION YEAR of which they are less than than number of students doing MPHARM program...THIS WILL MEAN STUDENTS WILL SACRIFICE 4 YEARS OF UNIVERSITY ONLY TO FIND THEY CAN NOT BE PHARMACISTS.......



Paul Reader, Non healthcare professional

What about making schools of pharmacy check the literacy of their applicants?

Peter McAuley, Community pharmacist

I was going to add a simialr comment to John Randell about the number of Pre-Reg positions being the real rate determinant of how many students can become pharmacists.

Do we know what is the existing number of pre-reg places over the last few years?

How many more pharmacies not already offering these pre-reg places can take it on?

The universities are driven by apparent demand, not by need. Hence we also have so many courses offering degrees in subjects such as golf course design.

Shue [email protected], Locum pharmacist

Academics are really working hard to make sure that their business is flourishing while turning a blind eye in the real world of declining pharmacy career. Greed!


We not really helping ourselves with all the internal bickering in the profession...

Unless there is some kind of unity, the paymasters will always have the uppr hand


Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

There is no evidence to suggest that placing a cap will reduce good quality outcomes. If this was the case then we would have some rubbish dentist and medics. Instead enrolling only the capable and quality students onto the course will shape the future of pharmacy on a positive note. Only students willing to study and practise pharmacy will undertake the course and not those who are just in it for the salaries, which are falling faster than the recession spread the financial world. No doubt the universities will not be publicising to students that there is a lack of job security, lack of respect, dwindling salaries and a doomed future ahead of them.

Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Let me put this simply. Increased student intake = increased income for the universities. Simple. Academics are not bothered about pharmacist future, they just need enough revenue to keep the university afloat.

Yacoob Maskeen, Community pharmacist

The Universities don't care about students future whether they get work or not. Their interest is only to make lots of money, and stuff their own pockets with it, simple as that. To mention a cap on student numbers, their blood pressure will surely rise. The same goes for our lovely GPhC who just loves making lots of money from registering lots of pharmacists, how sweet.
The only way to cap numbers is inform all secondary schools,and colleges in the country and let them know the truth about pharmacy. Then the students will decide for them selves.

Daniel McNulty, Superintendent Pharmacist

In a recent announcement, DEFRA have stated that turkeys have demanded an enquiry into Christmas dinner. Christmas is now expected to be delayed several years until excessive and unnecessary committees arrive at a decision.
In the mean time, be on the look out for an increasing number of jobless turkeys.

Uma Patel, Community pharmacist

As Mandy Rice-Davies said '"He would, wouldn't he?"
Instead of 'He' make it 'They'.

Ryan Hamilton, Academic pharmacist

Has their call for the "Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to commission an independent review of long-term planning for the pharmacy workforce" been interpreted properly here?

An independent review of the future of the pharmacy workforce has already taken place. It was commissioned to the Centre for Workforce Intelligence by the DH, and its [grim] findings were published this year:

The way I read their letter is they want HEFCE to look into the distribution of pharmacy courses in the country, based on workforce need. For example, there are no schools in the South West but there is a high density in the North West. Such a review could also be important if a reduction in students is announced, as it will be vital to inform where these cuts should be distributed. This is something that is likely to be hotly debated during the second consultation if a "cap" is announced.

Papa Echo, Community pharmacist

Absolutely sick of this 'profession '!!! Why are the powers that be just toying around with people's livelihood,(whether it be the accountable bodies, the corporates,....etc) and it's the patients in the end that will get the raw deal and of course ....Pharmacy !!!


Cutting student intake across pharmacy schools is "in no-one's interest" and will do nothing to improve quality in the sector, pharmacy school chiefs have warned.


Zegai Ermias, Community pharmacist

if you are non healthcare professional what do you know about pharmacy to coment on this form. Those professionals are promoting their interests rather than the pharmacy secter overall. They just wanted more money by having a lot of students.

Clinical Pharmacist, Hospital pharmacist

Reality is we need to do what dentistry and medical
Schools do which is cap numbers. We are just a good a profession and need to make steps so numbers HAVE to be capped

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Pure self interest from the “Academics” on this matter.

I do hope they are being honest and explaining to their students that a substantial and increasing number of Pharmacy graduates will not find employment as Pharmacists.

They may also like to point out to students that even if they do secure employment as a Pharmacist they can look forward to falling salaries, lots of stress and a doubtful long term future.

Michael McDonald, Locum pharmacist

Clive, it was because pharmacy was seen as a lucrative and secure way of making a living that we are now sitting with a glut. The word will spread that pharmacy is a dead end job, and pure self interest will create another shortage in a few years time, thatis, if we are still needed in a few years time.

Zegai Ermias, Community pharmacist


Recently Registered Pharmacist, Pharmacy

There's some misunderstanding on this article, from Mr Hodgson and Del Boy - these Academics are still advocating the capping of student numbers - just not to the detriment of the best schools.

If you are going to reduce the number of pharmacy students, reduce the number studying at poorly performing universities.

The schools of pharmacy that produce good quality graduates shouldn't get their numbers reduced - but schools of pharmacy whose graduates do badly in the registration exam should be capped.

Seems fair enough - get rid of the schools that churn out poor quality graduates


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