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Government rejects pharmacy student cap

A cap would not fit with the government's strategy for the sector, says universities minister Greg Clark

A numbers limit does not fit with the government’s “objectives for pharmacy” and students will benefit from “greater choice” without it, says universities minister Greg Clark

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

Did Mr Clark make the right choice?

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

Nick Ford, Non healthcare professional

Two issues I haven't seen addressed thus far:

1) While I wholly deplore Clark's decision not to cap pharmacy undergraduate admissions, any young person contemplating any degree course at University should be aware that in most cases, supply of graduates far exceeds market demand, and in most cases if you don't have an upper Second from a Russell Group university, for all the good a pharmacy BSc will do your career, you might as well regard your time there as having been spent at a finishing school.

2) There is an actual, deep-seated prejudice against pharmacy within the NHS. When I joined the NHS I was told that the most able and intelligent students chose medicine, the less able, dentistry, and the least able - you guessed - pharmacy.

What the profession and its lay advocates need to do is disprove both these assumptions.

A P, Community pharmacist

Just received a 'Skills Show' leaflet at the NEC, in my child's school bag. Any pharmacists going to tell these kids to give pharmacy a wide berth??? Lol.

Tracey graham, Community pharmacist

my advise is reconsider and become a chimney sweep! my chimney sweep cost £50 and took 45 min to do the job.he sellotaped a sheet round the front of the fireplace,stuck a rod, with a brush on the end, up a sleeve in the sheet, then took it down,swept it and vaccumed it. done in 45 min. earning ..£50 an hour. he's fully booked up over the next few can still use your knowledge of chemistry, as he told me all about soot and how flammable it is,and about the different types of coal,wood etc!!!!! sorry to be so frivolous about a serious subject such as the future of a career in pharmacy!

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

Tracey, while I'm not exactly advocating chimney sweeping (tho it seemed to work well enough for Dick Van Dyck as a career move!) I do wonder why pharmacists are prepared to work for poverty wages . If I was offered that kind of rate, I'd take my considerable talents elsewhere and work outside pharmacy.

A P, Community pharmacist

Where are these new roles for pharmacists and who is developing them?? Does anyone know??

M Yang, Community pharmacist

Interesting ideas being suggested on Pharmacy Forum:

'Further to that, an online petition/letter to Greg Clark explaining in clear terms that:

1) the majority of the profession who support a student cap will not - in good conscience - encourage successive generations to become Pharmacists

2) doing so would condemn future generations of talented young people to the prospect of no job, a low salary or the real possibility of not gaining a pre reg

3) since the government has made a misguided decision and disregarded the majority, we'll use every legal means to tackle the increasing student numbers, including:

a) actively promoting the student cap agenda at the high school and university level, the mantra being "you'll be in the same boat as forensic students."
b) actively decline taking on pre regs, as we have no legal obligation to do so
c) work alongside organisations supporting the student cap agenda to publicise the viewpoint of the majority

Effectively, the profession will be taking steps to self regulate its own numbers, government decision or not.'

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

They is no point doing a pharmacy degree without a Prereg...some will was
te 4 years of their life...

Greg Clark went straight for university to being a "management consultant" and thence to parliament. He is also a keen advocate of homeopathy being available on the NHS - enough said!!

Chris Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Clearly the minister doesn't understand the profession and the issues faced by ordinary pharmacists and hasn't listened to the people that do understand the profession, but why are we surprised? He has other more vocal and influential stakeholders concerns to take into account.

Politicians are so far removed from the concerns of ordinary people and I think its about time that something was done about it, the question is what?

Chemical Mistry, Information Technology

Should try and swamp his twitter feed greg James mp easily found for a start. 140 words I know but if every pharmacist showed their displeasure at his decision.
I will not be voting for his party as result of his decision and might be the difference between Tory. Or ukip not great I know but mp''s only care about keeping their cushy number.
Also the pharmacy parliamentary group should have meeting ASAP for him explain his decision .
And if I was a contractor I would take on pre-reg on no salary now. And pocket the 18k be good on the bottom line and no law against it since students will be desperate to complete the pre-reg year what good is a pharmacy degree when cannot do the pre-reg year.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

'what good is a pharmacy degree when cannot do the pre-reg year'

With or without a pre reg year, an utter waste of time

L Smith, Non healthcare professional

An absolutely appalling decision and a big slap in the face for the BPSA,RPS,PDA and all others who worked tirelessly in relation to the student numbers issue.

I think one of the main reasons why this decision was made was because of the Governments general desire to increase university places and not to put a cap on numbers. Greg Clark is working under the Government’s remit to increase university student numbers in general (main reason probably being the amount of money this will being especially from overseas students).

The best evidence in the world would perhaps not have changed their mind as they want to increase university places. Tragically they have applied the same principle to pharmacy and therefore oppose any caps on numbers. Read this link below in which Greg Clark role is to “increase student numbers and not to limit university places”

What I find disappointing in his short letter is that he says that he cannot find strong evidence to justify a pharmacy cap. Really? What sort of evidence is he after? One of the main evidences is that student numbers need to be matched with pre reg places and ministers themselves asked for the consultation in the first place after the research evidence in relation to numbers (what more evidence did he want?) and now there is a dramatic u turn? I think this u turn is a result of the point mentioned above that university student numbers are to be increased in general. I guess the desire to bring in as much money as possible by increasing student numbers has won the day.

The most disappointing part of his short and brief letter is when he says: tell students they are not guaranteed a pre reg place. Can you imagine everyone’s reaction and anger when they read that statement? The whole reason was to match pre reg places to students, but he rejects that and then says tell students they will not be guaranteed a pre reg place? What on Earth!!!

The decision must be challenged, but I don’t think it can as it seems that it is the final decision.

Very disappointing. Everyone must be feeling angry and bitterly disappointed at the decision.

Anthony Boughton, Superintendent Pharmacist

What is democracy? Members of the Pharmacy sector VOTED to cap student numbers, therefore how can any MP rule it out?

So annoyed, I am a pharmacy student and I find this utterly appalling.

If the sector votes for an action... that should overrule any MP!

Anthony Boughton, 3rd year MPharm student from UCLan.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

You need to retrain asap unless you have a father/mother who already owns a phharmacy

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist


I think we should voice our concerns. This MP has a website and email. As many of us as possible should mail him to explain our concerns. Like people have said above, we should not accept this and should fight for what we want.

His email is: [email protected]

Please support guys, I know I will be.

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

He's on twitter to @gregclarkmp but please please think very hard before making contact. He's clearly made an ignorant decision. Is he arrogant? Perhaps.. poorly advised? Possibly but the key point is this: I'm angry too. I've just written to the PJ and the headline is INCANDESCENT (if they print it!). So let's get him to a good local pharmacy; show him what we are doing; persuade him of what we COULD do and get him on board. However angry we are, abusing him will be entirely counter-productive

Chemical Mistry, Information Technology

Just to make clear i never stated to abuse Mr Greg Clark MP as said by Mr Phillips far from it!
And take offence that it was suggested by Mr Phillps that i was encouraging such behaviour!
I will be emailing Mr KEITH Barron MP CHAIR of the Pharmacy Parlimentary committee to express my views on the matter.
But i am angry that MR Phillips is suggesting that i advocate any abuse for a sitting MP.

A very poor show from MR Phillips.

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

Hi Arsene. Apols if that's what you thought I meant. It wasn't aimed specifically at you. It was a wider point. Some of the commentators on this site seem to think that behaviour that is somewhere between aggressive and abusive is acceptable on a professional forum. Well it isn't. The last thing we need is for this kind of behaviour to be directed at Greg Clark, the NHS or anyone else for that matter

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

This is a disgrace and we should NOT accept it. Watch this space for more campaigning but meanwhile this

and this



Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist


I think we should voice our concerns. This MP has a website and email. As many of us as possible should mail him to explain our concerns. Like people have said above, we should not accept this and should fight for what we want.

His email is: [email protected]

Please support guys, I know I will be.

M Yang, Community pharmacist

Community, how should we go about lobbying Minister Greg Clark? I imagine that his secretary would deal with the vast majority of email so that route might not prove fruitful.

Like many of us here, I'm a member of the Pharmacy UK forum. While the C & D and Pharmacy UK forum are good places to find information and exchange ideas, I'm concerned that we're not really being heard.

A more organised and formal lobbying of Mr Clark may be needed. Do you have an email address or an account on Pharmacy UK so I can get in touch and brainstorm some ideas? I think individuals sending their own email or letter to the minister would be a piecemeal attempt and we need combined action from many community pharmacists. I know that the PDA has experience dealing with e-petitions, perhaps if we can acquire their help that would lend our cause a bit more gravitas.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Truth is opening up these new schools has been a disaster. Everyone knows standards have been dumbed down and the the new institutions are only interested in money.

Anton Sobala, Locum pharmacist

What do you guys think about how the impending abundance of pharmacy graduates will affect the technicians and ACTs of the future. Unlike the current situation with pharmacists, there is unlikely to ever be any great excess of technicians or ACTs because contractors and hospitals simply train the number that they require to fill jobs. They do not want an excess, it would be a waste of money. There may have been a tendency at the 'nicer' multiples to train a slight excess in order to avoid losing certain talented members of staff who (without any means of progression) may have concluded that it's easier and less stressful to work on the till as ASDA. No doubt they'll soon cut down on this type of thing too! Budgets and all that. Overall effect: some of the best staff will be lost and replaced by the potentially clueless.

For a contractor owing a busy pharmacy business - ideal financial situation:

1. Assistants on minimum wage doing as many jobs as they can legally do. Main shop service but also help in other areas - in some cases areas that they are not trained in. But shhh.

2. NVQ2 dispensing assistants doing the majority of labelling and dispensing.

3. Often 0-1 registered technician. Unlike the situation in most hospitals, the difference between the job role of NVQ2 dispensers and technicians is much less. As a result, the multiples recognise the need for registered technicians only in certain branches. The busiest branches usually have a technician. Without one (or at least some form of senior dispensary staff), things can get rapidly out of control, especially if the NVQ2 dispersers are new, part way through their course or otherwise inexperienced. Smaller pharmacies are less likely to need one because it's much easier for the pharmacist to supervise most activities personally.

Ever been the lone pharmacist in a dispensing factory? Cannot possibly supervise everything properly, so need tech support to avoid meltdown. Second pharmacist now gone. Multiple may employ a non-checking tech and an ACT.

4. ACTs - in hospital, they do the majority of the accuracy checking. Pharmacists must sign/date the clinical check box before the order can even be dispensed, according to policy. In community, ACTs are only need at certain types of pharmacy eg. high script volume + lone pharmacist (second pharmacists getting rarer), checking trays in MDS factories... Some pharmacists use ACTs to check while performing services.

5. Increasingly, even the busiest comm. pharmacies have a single pharmacist. Will this change if pharmacist's wages go down? Or not?

I expect ACTs will be used a great deal at the hubs (hub and spoke model) alongside bar code scanning technology etc, similar to some of the technology used by wholesalers to ensure correct product selection. I cannot imagine that hubs will employ many pharmacists. How they will perform accurate clinical checks I do not know.


Near future. Worsening opportunities and reduced pay for pharmacists. Technicians and ACTs, relatively stable pay, clear better in hospital. Some job opportunities but only where an unqualified won't do. Certainly not an abundance of jobs. Contractors trying to keep staffing levels to a minimum.

Several years to come: Will ACTs continue to be used in community if pharmacist's pay is now little different to ACT's pay? How will this work out? Will we see the return of the second pharmacist with one checking/counselling etc and the other doing MURs and suchlike? How will pharmacy graduates feel about performing new services for lower than ever wages? I don't know. They might not have much choice.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

If I wanted to study pharmacy now I would go abroad as the actual fees are cheaper in Europe where many degree courses are ran in American English to attract overseas students.

That said, the profession has been literally flushed down the lavy pan. Just glad that I've paid of my mortgage and next an exit strategy out of this maligned profession!

Sami Khaderia, Non healthcare professional

In reply to Gerry

f I wanted to study pharmacy now I would go abroad as the actual fees are cheaper in Europe where many degree courses are ran in American English to attract overseas students.

That said, the profession has been literally flushed down the lavy pan. Just glad that I've paid of my mortgage and next an exit strategy out of this maligned profession!

Some of us ones paid Cash and didn't require a mortgage. Usury is forbidden in both the Old testament New testament and the last testament namely the Glorious Qur'an.

Graham Phillips, Superintendent Pharmacist

Gerry the £K36 that new graduates are paid here is "huge" believe it or not c/f European pharmacist salaries. 8euro per hour is common.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

Correct from what I have heard from those from Europe. We have been very fortunate historically compared with those colleagues. Spain has quite an excess of qualified people with pharmacy qualifications.

This is not comforting for those on exclusive contracts which are not full time. We may think we have been let down by Government who really want our services at min rate of pay they can get away with in the longer term.

There has been lobbying for excessive numbers of graduates. Qui Bono? Who benefits ?
There is so much we could assist with in the longer term but it is short term cost cutting instead.

Anton Sobala, Locum pharmacist

Where are such wages common? What would the assistants be getting paid in those countries?

John Schofield, Locum pharmacist

I cannot see how the government can refuse a limit on pharmacy students and allow restriction on the number of pharmacy contracts.


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