The government has requested that the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Health Education England review the subject’s current study arrangements following a report by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence on the future of the industry.
Interest in pharmacy studies has grown dramatically in recent years. Student intakes have almost trebled since 1998 – in 2012-13 there were 3,104 home and European Union students and 643 international students in the first year of MPharm programmes in England.
The number of English universities accredited for the MPharm course has almost doubled; currently, 21 institutions offer the course, compared with 12 in 2002. There are a further two universities seeking full accreditation in the next two years.
The four-year MPharm, accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council, is the only qualification in the UK which leads to professional registration as a pharmacist.
After pharmacists have completed their degree they qualify by completing a year of training in the industry, often with the NHS, and passing the pre-registration exam.
While medicine and dentistry places are controlled, there are currently no such limits on the number of pharmacy students.
Three options are proposed by the Hefce/HEE joint consultation: To continue to allow the market to determine the number of pharmacy graduates; to introduce an intake control at each university for entrants to MPharm programmes; and to create a break-point during study which enables some students to graduate with a BSc degree while others progress through further study to qualify as registered pharmacists.
Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce chief executive, urged everyone with an interest in the future of pharmacy education and training to take advantage of the opportunity to give their views.
“This is a pivotal moment for pharmacy education and training…We do not have a firm view but it will be especially important to consider the impact of any decision on the wider population, patients in the NHS and current and prospective students who wish to pursue a professional career in pharmacy,” he said.
The consultation is open until 15 November and the outcomes will be published in early 2014. A more detailed second-stage consultation will follow in 2014, with any changes likely to take effect from the 2015-16 academic year.
Chris Welsh, director of education and quality at HEE, highlighted the importance of the consultation to the future of patient care.
“Through this consultation, we are looking to explore, with employers, universities, students, professional bodies and patient groups, the best options available to deliver safe, effective use of medicines and public health by pharmacists and their teams,” he said.
“Delivering a pharmacist workforce fit for the future, is how we can ensure, above everything else, that we provide safe and high quality care to patients.”