Pharmacy schools in England may need to cut their student intake by as much as 15 per cent a year until 2020 to avoid creating an oversupply of pharmacists, a government-commissioned review has warned.
The government should take a flexible approach to limiting student numbers or face a possible surplus of between 11,000 and 19,000 pharmacists by 2040, the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) argued in a strategic review published this week (September 2).
Failure to limit numbers would inevitably lead to unemployment and eventually jeopardise the allure of the profession, prompting an undersupply of pharmacists in the long term, CfWI said.
Schools may need to cut their intakes by as much as 15 per cent a year between 2016-17 and 2019-20, the review warned
More on pharmacy students
The review stressed that a flexible restriction on student numbers was the only way of matching supply to demand. Schools may need to cut their intakes by as much as 15 per cent a year between 2015-16 and 2019-20, it said, potentially increasing 3 per cent a year after that to avoid an undersupply of pharmacists.
However, the CfWI stressed it could only make estimates and that student intakes needed "careful monitoring and review" to respond to any changes in the market. The number of future jobs would vary dramatically depending on whether the sector played a wider role in healthcare, or whether internet pharmacies ate up market share, it explained.
The government was keen to curb any surplus in pharmacists at a time when NHS funding was under pressure, the review said. "Given the real possibility that NHS healthcare spending may not increase in the coming decades at the rapid pace seen over the past 50 or 60 years, addressing any oversupply becomes a priority," it explained.
The government first set out plans to cap pharmacy student numbers in the same way as medical and dental degrees in December, following concerns that a lack of controls could create an oversupply of pharmacists. Student numbers more than doubled from 4,200 in 1999 to 9,800 in 2009, Medical Education England figures showed.
The government will now consider how to respond to the CfWI review.
The CfWI's reasoning
How did the CfWI reach its conclusion?
The CfWI used a combination of figures on the pharmacist workforce and expert interviews to draw its recommendations. It interviewed a range of stakeholders, such as multiples, schools of pharmacy and student bodies to gauge their opinions. However, the CfWI said it would like more up-to-date figures on the pharmacist workforce and called for another pharmacy census to be conducted.
Why are its estimates so variable?
The CfWI forecast a surplus of between 11,000 and 19,000 pharmacists by 2040 if student numbers go uncontrolled. It based these numbers on four possible scenarios for the future of pharmacy with wide-ranging job prospects – from the domination of internet pharmacies to pharmacists establishing themselves as a regular point of advice.
Are you seeing a surplus/shortage of pharmacists in your area and has it affected job opportunities?