The government was right to reject a cap on pharmacy student numbers to prevent wages becoming "unsustainable", the managing director of Lloydspharmacy's parent company has claimed.
The decision to avoid a cap would not cause an oversupply of pharmacists because demand for their skills would increase as pharmacy's role in the NHS changed, Celesio UK managing director Cormac Tobin told C+D in an exclusive interview yesterday (November 20).
The government announced last month that it would not cap pharmacy student numbers, despite support from the majority of the sector for a limit in a consultation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
Mr Tobin said that many newly qualified pharmacists would look to move abroad when they qualified, because their skills were in demand in other countries. A cap would keep pharmacists in the UK and drive up wages to "unsustainable levels", as had a similar policy in the Republic of Ireland, he stressed.
"I don't believe there's an oversupply of skills and labour in healthcare industries throughout the world. Many countries are short, and Britain produces excellent people," he said.
A "free market" would encourage entrepreneurship among young pharmacists, who would "challenge the status quo" and produce better ways of caring for patients, Mr Tobin said.
"As the chief executive of the company who needs these quality skills, I'm not frightened by oversupply because I don't think there will be. I think things are going to happen out there that will drive [oversupply] back out again," he told C+D.
Mr Tobin pointed to NHS England's Five Year Forward View document, published last month, as an example of how pharmacy's "skill set will move" away from dispensing into more clinical roles, leading to a greater demand for pharmacists. If this healthcare model was properly funded it would create a "new demand" for pharmacists, he added.
Last month, C+D readers slammed the government's "crazy" rejection of the cap on pharmacy student numbers as evidence that it was out of touch with the sector. The government later told C+D that the HEFCE consultation was "not a vote on government policy".