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BIS: No record of reasons for student cap rejection

PDA chairman Mark Koziol: Government's decision-making process was "superficial"

The government's failure to take minutes at its meetings about restricting pharmacy student numbers show a "lack of seriousness", says Pharmacists' Defence Association chairman Mark Koziol


The government has no record of how it reached its decision to reject a cap on student numbers, C+D has learned.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) held two meetings in May and June 2014 to discuss controlling the intake of pharmacy students, but it had “no recorded information” about who attended or what was discussed, it said in a response to a Freedom of Information request from C+D, received on March 2.

The final decision to reject any form of limit on student numbers was made outside of these two meetings, it added.

Last October, universities minister Greg Clark announced that the government would not restrict student numbers, because a cap would not fit with its “objectives for pharmacy”. 

Its decision flew in the face of feedback from the government consultation on the issue, which revealed that most respondents favoured some form of limit on student numbers to prevent the oversupply of pharmacy graduates from worsening.

A 'superficial' decision

Pharmacists’ Defence Association chairman Mark Koziol branded BIS’s decision-making process “superficial”. Choosing to leave student intakes uncapped “in a couple of informal un-minuted meetings” indicated its “lack of seriousness” when making the decision, he added.

Graham Phillips, owner of Manor Pharmacy Group (Wheathampstead) Ltd, said the lack of information on how BIS had reached its decision was “not exactly transparent”. Claims that the department had not taken any minutes during the meetings were “simply not credible”, he stressed.

Pre-registration student Zohib Sheikh told C+D that the government’s lack of transparency was “disgusting”. “All the major [health] professions have their student numbers capped, so why not pharmacy?” he said.

C+D submitted its Freedom of Information request on February 4 in response to a statement from BIS last year that its decision was based on “sources of evidence” other than a Higher Education Funding Council and Health Education England consultation on the topic. At the time, the department refused to reveal any details of this other evidence. 


Read Pharmacy Voice's reaction to the news here.


What do you think of the government's lack of  information?

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information



Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

That has got to be the most craziest stunt ever! A decision has been based "on evidence" that has not even be recorded. Why is the BIS not being called to answer this? That means their entire decision basing is flawed, and we need to have another evidence-based result on the student cap issue. This definately should not be the end to the question! Anyone at BIS - what is your response? It's not good enough to say that minutes were not recorded, what is going to be DONE?!

M Yang, Community pharmacist

As the editor said, the information can be refused under certain circumstances. However, in this instance I see one of two possibilities 1) the minutes were indeed not recorded, thus a breach of proper legal procedures 2) they were recorded but BIS claims they don't exist, which is false information being given to the public. Sadly, the RPS and GPhC seem unwilling to comment, we have the PDA being the only organisation speaking up about this. Well done PDA. You've worked tirelessly to help pharmacists so far and I hope you apply the same energy to bring BIS to account for this. Don't give up, because we'll not give up our support for you.

Farm Assistant, Community pharmacist

This has to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Amazing how certain records are mysteriously lost. Looks like I will have to move to Monaco (a sunny place for shady people)

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

It's only corruption when the country is far away and the people have a darker skin tone.

John Schofield, Locum pharmacist

Switzerland and FIFA disprove that statement!

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Don't see the need to get hot and bothered about student numbers? After 30 or more years on the register, we've seen issues come and go of one sort or another, folk just won't sign up to do the course when they find out the money is rubbish and they can't pay their student fees back, buy a decent house or have a reasonable standard of living. Roll on retirement!

M Yang, Community pharmacist

A rather pessmistic attitude but you do have a point. With information at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger, people will know to stay away from pharmacy school (unless you're able to start your own pharmacy). 15-20 years ago, we didn't have such easy access to information and we would have relied on what the universities told us and what was published in their prospectus. It's different now. Give it a few more years and this will be disseminated to the public. Some people speculate we'll gradually see a dip in student numbers and eventually what seems a sudden sharp decline in pharmacists.

M Yang, Community pharmacist

C + D is worthy reading for Pharmacists and I commend theem for making the request. However I think this refusal to provide the minutes might be because BIS doesn't regard C + D as being important or has enough clout. The next step is for other organisations such as the RPS and PDA to make requests for these minutes. They must be merciless and persist in their demand for this information. Minutes are a legal requirement. If they've been destroyed or were never recorded, then they have a lot of answering to do. Greg Clark will face some uncomfortable questions (anyone seen The Thick of it?). What of the minutes when it came to removing student caps for all other degrees? I'm sure the 2 two biggest parties after Conservative (you know who I'm talking about) should be made aware of this. It'll make for some very entertaining questions when their MPs have the floor at Westminster.

Jennifer Richardson, Editorial

Hi M Yang, As indicated in the story, C+D requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act - which legally obliges public sector organisations to provide recorded information. They can refuse under certain circumstances (see as they did with some our requests for information about the script fraud checks (eg, But beyond these circumstances the legal obligation stands regardless of who is making the request - whether C+D, the PDA, RPS or any other organisation or, indeed, unaffiliated individual. Best, Jennifer

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

The government's failure to take minutes at its meetings about restricting pharmacy student numbers will obviously give rise to suspicions of the true motives for rejecting a cap on numbers. Do you have to be a conspiracy theorist to imagine a meeting in a very dark alley at midnight with University Deans and representatives of overseas based Multiples whispering deals and handing over large brown envelopes to the shadowy agents of the BIS?

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

It is quite obvious why - to drive down costs. This is beyond disrespect - it is a complete waste of time to think we have ear of Government or ever will. We are being systematically broken down over time and all the promises and sweet talk will never disguise it. I thought joining this 'profession' would count as one of the great days of my life. Leaving it will be.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Memo to Mr Sheikh: Pharmacy is not a major health profession. Hasn't been for a few years now.

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

Link to the PV quote appears to be broken...

Jennifer Richardson, Editorial

Sorry! Should be working now.

Aly Sazan, Locum pharmacist

Personally, I think the pharmacist student numbers should remain wholly uncapped and for an unspecified period of time let's say for arguments sake circa one millenium. I agree unreservedly with right honourable and wonderfully enlightened Greg Clark MP, custodian of all the universities in the land that the numbers remain untouched. He told me this over a latte and a shellfish sandwich the other day whilst watching those Eton boys enjoy a spot of cricket followed by some questionable hoory henry antics near the cricket field latrines. Anyway, Greggy Clarky is an awfully well mannered chap and knows exactly what he is talking about and we pharmacists would most judicious in our reasoning to heed his gift of foresight and reasoning. All my love for now. Call me Al!

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