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Trade unions won’t back apprenticeship without pharmacists’ views

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) have written to the body overseeing the latest plans for a pharmacy apprenticeship to tell them they cannot support the proposals unless the views of individual pharmacists are taken into account.

In their letter, the two independent trade unions say that although the views of business owners and NHS employer organisations on a five-year pharmacy apprenticeship have been considered, they are “disappointed and concerned” that “no attempt has yet been made to include the independent voice of pharmacists.”

In a separate joint statement, the PDA and GHP said they would not back the plans unless they received assurances that apprentices “will enjoy robust, well rounded and effective education and study which meets the (General Pharmaceutical Council) requirements for an MPharm course,” and apprentices have enough time for revision, self-directed learning and rest.

They also want guarantees that registrants produced via the apprenticeship route would “not threaten the status, resilience and viability of the profession as a whole.”

Last month the employer group behind a second proposal for a degree-level apprenticeship for pharmacists revealed their identities and said they plan to address issues such as funding and the reasons for the backlash to the initial proposal.

Employers in that group include Asda, Boots, Rowlands, LloydsPharmacy, Well, Superdrug, Lincolnshire Co-operative, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Blackwell Medical Services and the Ministry of Defence.

They pledged to work with universities, professional bodies, arms-length bodies and the General Pharmaceutical Council to develop the apprenticeship.

PDA/GHP statement

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP) received notification of a renewed Pharmacist Apprenticeship proposal process on 25th October 2019.

As the two independent trade unions for the profession we represent the interests and views of individual pharmacists.

We led the reaction to the previous attempt to develop a proposal for an apprenticeship and the PDA was instrumental in activating over 6,000 pharmacists to respond to the consultation on that proposal. At the invitation of IFATE, the PDAU then facilitated the initial stakeholder meeting at which the GHP was also an active participant.  It became apparent that after that scrutiny the initial proposal was abandoned.

Both organisations were also present at the stakeholder event in July, however the latest process and communication makes no reference to listening to the voice of pharmacists. We are concerned with this new proposal and have invited the employer group to confirm that they intend to engage with us as they proceed, since excluding the voice of rank and file pharmacists from the process until the final consultation is what caused the significant negative response to the first proposal.

We know that many pharmacists have concerns about the underlying motivations for this proposal and are concerned about the negative effect a poorly devised and delivered apprenticeship would have upon the profession as a whole. Many of our respective members are current employees in the employer group organisations and may well have very pertinent contributions to make.

As representative unions, we understand the environment in which pharmacists work and have an informed opinion on the suitability of such conditions and the impact they may have on professional learning in the workplace. This impact may be beneficial, but can be negative, particularly in some commercial settings. Therefore we cannot support the proposal unless and until there are realistic assurances that apprentices will enjoy robust, well rounded and effective education and study which meets the GPhC requirements for an MPharm course; the training will allow apprentices adequate time for revision, self-directed learning and rest; and most importantly will produce registrants who whilst being at no material disadvantage compared to registrants educated via the traditional route will not threaten the status, resilience and viability of the profession as a whole.

In the meantime, we feel it is imperative that we represent our members in raising these concerns at an early stage so that they can be taken into consideration by the employer group before any decision to proceed is made.

We call upon the employer group and Skills for Health to listen to the voices of individual working pharmacists and engage with the profession via our two organisations. We will be providing further information and advice to members as this proposal progresses.

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