The government will not cap pharmacy student numbers despite support from the majority of the sector for a limit, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has announced.
A cap did not fit with the government's "objectives for pharmacy" and students would benefit from "greater choice" without it, minister for universities, science and cities Greg Clark MP said in a letter sent to HEFCE last month and published on Wednesday (October 15).
HEFCE should ensure universities told prospective pharmacy students that a degree did not guarantee a pre-reg placement, Mr Clark said. His letter was written in response to the findings of a joint consultation last year by HEFCE and Health Education England (HEE), which showed that most respondents favoured some form of limit on student numbers to resolve the "significant" oversupply of pharmacy graduates.
The proposal for a cap on student numbers from next year had received support from the "majority" of the 183 respondents to the consultation, who included commissioners, employers, educational bodies and healthcare professionals. Only a "minority" had opposed the cap, HEFCE said.
Supporters argued that the cap was in the best interests of students, patients and the public, HEFCE said in an anaylsis of the consultation, also published on Wednesday. Respondents called for a "flexible" approach to a limit on numbers that would allow for a "small degree of oversupply", it said.
But Mr Clark scuppered any future plans for a cap and said there was "no need to consider further options for a pharmacy number control".
"It is government policy to remove student number controls wherever possible to encourage universities to offer better quality courses to attract students. I believe pharmacy students can and should benefit from this reform and not be restricted," he said.
As well as proposals to either introduce a cap on numbers or allow the market to continue unrestricted, the consultation also gave the option of creating a "formal break-point" for students during their degree course. This third option was not favoured by respondents, who said it would offer "no sustainable, long-term solution" to the problem of oversupply, HEFCE said.
In response to the news, Pharmacy Voice chief executive Rob Daracott tweeted: "Three years [of] evidential/expert work dismissed by yet another minister's 'beliefs'."
Pharmacist and University of Birmingham lecturer Dr Anthony Cox said it was "quite clear" that Mr Clark "doesn't want demand to meet supply"."Time to find new roles for pharmacists in an NHS struggling with capacity issues," he wrote on Twitter.
Read C+D's analysis of the consultation response here