The current system of determining MPharm student numbers is left to market forces and not subject to government intervention or regulation. Up until a few years ago there had been evidence of an undersupply of pharmacists but the considerable growth in the number of schools of pharmacy over the last 10 years has led to concerns that more pharmacy graduates are being produced than are needed. At the end of their degree pharmacy graduates must undertake a pre-registration year placement of which the total number of places available are generally limited by an agreed number of NHS commissions and the business needs and demands of community pharmacies. The government has stated that in future, not all students starting an MPharm programme can expect to secure a pre-registration trainee pharmacist placement.
The RPS is aware of the need to balance pharmacists and students concerns over the potential discrepancy between student numbers and pre-registration places, with developing a pharmacist workforce that is the right size to meet the needs of the patients. RPS’ priority is preserving the quality of the workforce in pharmacy; we wish to maintain the highest standards and attract the best candidates. When there is no longer a reasonable expectation of gaining a pre-registration place at the end of the course, this can be a strong disincentive for the brightest applicants to choose pharmacy over another medical or other profession.
The government has set widening participation targets to help with social mobility and removed number controls from the Higher Education system. However, in securing the next generation of high quality pharmacists delivering services to patients, recruitment onto MPharm courses needs to move beyond simply filling up course places and consideration given to the values, behaviours and the academic ability of applicants. Quality criteria should be in place including managing a sustainable numbers of MPharm students.
The RPS supports exploring systems that match student numbers more closely to the availability of placements at the end of the degrees along with the number of placements to meet the needs of patients. Allowing for some level of competition between places can promote high standards, but the bigger issue is delivering effective workforce planning and ensuring that we have the right number of healthcare professionals to meet the needs of patients and the NHS.