1. This consultation seeks views about how we should respond to a potential oversupply of MPharm graduates emerging from higher education in England. It is published jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Health Education England (HEE).
2. The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, has raised concerns about the long-term impact of producing more pharmacy graduates than are needed to deliver safe and effective services and care for patients and the public. These relate most immediately to an oversupply of graduates compared with the availability of NHS-funded training posts.
3. These concerns were raised by the Minister for Universities and Science and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Quality, Earl Howe, during discussions of the reform of pharmacists’ undergraduate and pre-registration education and training. David Willetts wrote on 23 April 2013 to ask HEFCE to work with HEE to address these concerns and to secure the student interest, including considering options for the implementation of student intake controls.
4. This consultation exercise is the first part of a two-stage process intended to inform decisions at HEFCE and HEE so that we can respond to the concerns raised by the Ministers.
The first stage (contained within this document) invites responses to three main options, so that we can establish clear aims following full engagement with stakeholders. It is deliberately broad-ranging and high-level in content so that a sustainable approach can be developed.
The second stage will follow early in 2014 and will provide an opportunity for further discussion of the option or options favoured in the first stage. The aim will be to build consensus on implementing a new approach from 2015-16.
5. We (HEFCE and HEE) aim to implement any changes as early as possible within a timeframe that enables students, employers and universities to deal with them effectively. The earliest we believe this can be is for the 2015-16 academic year. This consultation’s proposals apply to England only, though their implementation could affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
6. This consultation will be of interest to:
- providers of higher and further education and their representative bodies
- other sector bodies, professional groups and regulatory bodies in the fields of pharmacy, medicine, dentistry and other healthcare professions
- employers of pharmacists who deliver services to NHS patients (such as NHS Trusts and community pharmacy employers) and in the private sector (such as private hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry)
- commissioners of NHS services
- patients and their representatives
- students, parents and advisors.
7. As the population ages there is a clear need to ensure that we have the right number of pharmacists with the right knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to work with patients to optimise the prescription and use of medicines. Delivering the pharmacist workforce within a safe, responsive system that ensures the best use of medicines is essential to providing the best possible outcomes for patients.
8. Longer-term issues include tackling error rates in the use of medicines, reducing admission rates for preventable adverse drug reactions, and ensuring that the NHS secures the best value it can from the £13 billion it spends annually on medicines.
9. Of the 37,900 registered pharmacists practising in England, the majority are delivering services and care for NHS patients. All those who trained in England completed their registration in training posts funded by the NHS.
10. Accredited MPharm degree programmes meet EU directives (on overall course length, amount of time in patient-facing practice, core knowledge and professional activities), the legal framework set out in the Pharmacy Order 2010, and the requirements of the General Pharmaceutical Council’s Standards for the Initial Education and Training of Pharmacists (which include learning outcomes focused on professionalism, patient care, science and innovation). At present 21 English universities are accredited to provide the MPharm course, compared with 12 in 2002. Two more are seeking full accreditation in the next two years.
11. There are no controls on the numbers of students that universities can recruit on to MPharm programmes across England. Student numbers studying pharmacy are therefore determined by the higher education market and demand from prospective students for places. This is the case for most other higher education courses. and annual student intakes in this area have grown from 1,390 in 1998 to 3,100 in 2012.
12. Since receiving the Minister’s letter, HEFCE and HEE have been drawing up broad proposals for consultation that recognise the interests of students, universities, patients and the NHS. We are seeking views on the following three broad options.
- Allowing the current market-driven policy to continue and determine the final level of student recruitment and numbers of MPharm programmes offered.
- Introducing student intake controls for each MPharm programme.
- Creating a break-point during the MPharm degree programmes, so that a proportion of students leave with a degree qualification that does not lead to registration as a pharmacist.
13. The closing date for responses is 1700 on Friday 15 November 2013. Responses should be made using the template form at Annex B and e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
14. The HEE and HEFCE Boards will consider a summary of the responses to this first-stage consultation, and agree a joint approach to respond to the concerns raised by the Ministers, in early 2014. We will publish the initial outcomes and next steps together with a summary of our analysis of the responses, as soon as possible after the Board decisions in early 2014.
15. We will then publish a second-stage consultation, with details of how the preferred approach established in the first stage could be implemented. We aim to conclude part two as swiftly as possible to allow as much time as possible to prepare for implementation. We believe that the earliest point at which changes could take effect is the 2015-16 academic year.