Lloydspharmacy has “seen a drop this year” in the number of pre-registration roles filled through Health Education England’s (HEE) centralised recruitment scheme, Oriel, the multiple told C+D last week (January 15).
This is broadly in line with the Oriel figures for the sector, which showed that just 43% of the 2,092 community pharmacy pre-reg roles have been filled for 2019-20 (see more below).
However, recruitment is “a much broader issue” than Oriel alone, Laura Reed, clinical training manager at Lloydspharmacy’s parent company McKesson UK, said.
“We are finding it a challenge to recruit pre-regs and pharmacists generally, for a variety of reasons.”
The new roles opening up for pharmacists to work in different settings, such as GP surgeries and care homes, “dilute the overall number of candidates looking to work in the community sector”, Ms Reed said.
She also pointed to the fall in the average pass rate for the June pre-reg exam – from 95% in 2016 to 78% in 2017 and 79% in 2018 – for “decreasing our newly qualified candidate pool year-on-year”.
The fall in the number of students choosing to study the MPharm degree is also a possible reason for the multiple’s recruitment challenges, she added.
While Lloydspharmacy has regular discussions with Oriel to address the issues of filling community pharmacy pre-reg places, Ms Reed said the “unhelpful” language from policy makers is not helping candidates’ perception of the sector.
“It’s disappointing that ‘clinical’ pharmacists are often portrayed separately to community pharmacists,” she said.
“Until these perceptions are addressed, we will struggle to compete with hospital pharmacy placements.”
Ms Reed’s view gives credence to comments from England’s deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Bruce Warner, who last week defended NHS England's use of the controversial term “clinical pharmacists” to describe only those working in hospitals or recruited into GP practices, by claiming “not all pharmacists can do everything”.
Well: Keen to address recruitment issues
Well Pharmacy echoed some of Lloydspharmacy’s concerns. The multiple has filled 24 of the 40 places it made available through the Oriel system for the 2019-20 intake and has seen “reduced attendance at university careers fairs and lower application numbers for our summer placement programme”, learning and development manager for pre-reg training Jessica Follows said.
“We are therefore keen to work with HEE, universities and the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association to see how we can address this,” she added.
However, Khalid Khan, head of training and professional standards at pharmacy chain Imaan Healthcare and member of Oriel’s evaluation steering group, said pharmacies must remember that pre-reg recruitment is “a buyer’s market”.
“It’s the students who choose where they apply,” he said. “The question isn’t: ‘Is the system working?’ It’s: ‘Why has no one chosen my place?’”
Imaan – which has filled 18 of its 40 pre-reg positions for 2019-20 via Oriel – has improved its marketing and made its programme more diverse by offering cross-sector elements, such as time in GP practices, in “nearly all” its placements, Mr Khan said.
A HEE study into Oriel’s first year showed that the “number one” factor for students choosing where to complete their pre-reg training was location, he added.
“It’s not the size of the company or the reputation, it’s just geography.”
Boots: We have a responsibility to improve perception
Boots echoed Lloydspharmacy’s concern that the drop in the number of students choosing to study pharmacy at university “will affect recruitment in the future”.
It made more than 1,000 pre-reg places available for this year, but said it is waiting for these to be accepted before revealing how many positions are filled.
“We have a responsibility to develop the workforce of the future and make pharmacy an attractive and appealing career,” the multiple said.
In November, Company Chemists' Association chief executive Malcolm Harrison – which represents the largest multiples and supermarket pharmacies – warned that it was “starting to see a decline in the number of people entering into community pharmacy”.