A pharmacy crisis about maintaining professional standards is looming, as cash-hungry universities accept a conveyer belt of students, many of whom fail at the final hurdle.
The Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) is concerned that more than 3,000 of the 12,000 current pharmacy students will fail the registration exam at the first of three attempts, after completing their degree, leaving them facing thousands of pounds of student debt after five years of study.
Since the year 2000, the numbers of UK pharmacy students going to university has more than trebled from 4,000 to over 12,000-a-year, with the increase in the number of approved pharmacy schools soaring from 12 to 27 - and still rising.
There are 45,000 pharmacists currently working in the NHS and in community pharmacies, 0with 2,500 coming on stream each year. However, there are fears that there will not be enough jobs for newly-qualified pharmacists.
There have been calls from the GHP, which is a professional section of Unite, the country’s largest union; employers; regulators; professional bodies; and students themselves, following a consultation on the need for control on entry standards and numbers – this was rejected last year by the coalition government.
However, today (Wednesday 12 August), Unite/GHP repeated the call for a national debate about what it called ‘the conveyer belt of students’ going to university; the financial imperatives driving universities’ entry policy, and the need to maintain the highest professional standards for the next generation of NHS pharmacists.
The GHP obtained the information to back its case by Freedom of Information (FoI) requests on the standards of average and median entry A-levels and uptake via the university clearing system and pass rates at the entrance examination.
The link to the FoI requests.
GHP president Vilma Gilis said: “This increase has been driven by the commercial interests of some universities often with a focus on quantity achieved through a reduction in the student quality.
“This has now led to a situation that over a quarter of students can no longer meet the basic requirements of a professional entry examination. This situation is unacceptable for both the graduates and their future employers – hence the call for a national debate.
“At a time when the public recognises the vital health role of pharmacists in delivering safe patient care and their increased move into GP practices and A&E departments, it is essential that we maintain and ideally increase standards for practitioners.
“Consequently, it is a matter of concern that we have such apparent variable standards on entry of young people being accepted by schools of pharmacy.”
David Miller, a former GHP President who co-ordinated the FoI enquiry, said: “This is the first time we have data in the public domain that shows a clear association over each of the last five years between entry criteria, the number taken through clearing and the final entry exam success.
“Most of the universities were forthcoming with the data, but perhaps the most revealing aspect is that two universities declined to provide information stating it would be detrimental to their commercial interests to disclose their marketing position.”
Average pass rates at the pre-registration year stage have dipped dramatically from 90 per cent (2009-2011) to 79 per cent in the last three years 2012-15.
David Miller commented: “We all fully accept and welcome the need for public safety means only pharmacists who meet the basic standards should be allowed to practice, but this is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“I feel for the individual students who seek a caring vocational career given false expectations of professional employment by certain course providers.
“They have invested five years of their lives and are now burdened with a large student debt that they may never be able to pay.”
Notes to editors:
1. Similar to a doctor and dentist, a graduate pharmacist has to complete a pre-registration year in practice before they are allowed by the General Pharmaceutical Council to enter the pharmaceutical register. Part of this process is an examination of their skills to apply theoretical knowledge into practice to ensure they are fit and safe to practice independently. They have three attempts to achieve this goal.
2. Please note the failure rate is the first of the three attempts allowed. The GHP does not have the failure rate after three attempts, but in 2014 there were 76 students sitting for the third time in June out of 2,549 and 50 out of 706 in September. If they fail on the third attempt, they will not be allowed to practice professionally as a pharmacist.
3. The Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists represents UK wide over 4,000 pharmacists including the majority of hospital pharmacists, pharmacists employed by NHS primary care organisations and pharmacists employed by other public bodies such as prisons and the Care Quality Commission. The Guild is part of the health sector of the union Unite.
4. For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
5. Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.