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Employers backing apprenticeships commit to transparency

By Neil Trainis

Employers behind a second proposal to introduce degree-level apprenticeships for pharmacists have revealed their identities and said they plan to address issues such as funding and the reasons for the backlash to the initial proposal.

It has emerged the employer group includes Asda, Boots, Rowlands, LloydsPharmacy, Well, Superdrug, Lincolnshire Co-operative, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Blackwell Medical Services and the Ministry of Defence.

Waiving their anonymity, members of the group pledged to work alongside universities, professional bodies, arms-length bodies and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to find a way to develop the apprenticeship.

According to Skills for Health, a not-for-profit working on behalf of the group to facilitate the development of the proposal, stakeholders agreed at an October 3 meeting that “more transparency in the process is needed and further engagement through a longer consultation period is required”.

The "financial viability" of pharmacist apprenticeships will be explored by the employers, Skills for Health said. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will contribute some funding through an approval process, and the group is "researching other funding opportunities".

The employers are expected to continue work on the proposal into 2020, with a public consultation likely to take place next year.

'Issues and concerns'

Skills for Health added that the trailblazer group intended to take into account the "issues and concerns that had been raised" regarding an initial apprenticeship proposal that stalled in May, and that it was taking steps to include "more NHS representation". 

Nine bodies, including the GPhC, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and National Pharmacy Association, provided advice to the employer group.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association, which previously criticised the lack of clarity around which employers were driving the proposal, said it welcomed the “improved transparency” and hoped “that if any proposal reaches a consultation stage, it will be widely publicised and provide a sufficient time period for the profession to respond".

The PDA, which has warned that apprenticeships could give employers too much control over pharmacists' career paths, clarified on social media that it has not been involved "in any capacity in this new proposal".

Employers 'aware of challenges'

In a statement, the employer group said: “We are aware of the challenges that this development has and we are committed to supporting employers through the process, ensuring the inclusion of professional bodies and the regulator.

“An integrated degree apprenticeship for pharmacists will provide choice for individuals wanting to train as a pharmacist in parallel to the traditional route in order to widen participation and access to the profession.

“With apprentices needing to undertake an MPharm degree as part of the on-programme training, it will ensure that the apprenticeship route is as academically robust as the existing route to registration.”

RPS director for education Gail Fleming said any proposal must be aligned with the GPhC's education and training standards and warned there are "serious risks if appropriate levels of funding are not secured".

However, apprenticeships could provide an additional route for those who find university fees "prohibitive," she said.

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