PhSC responds to Pharmaceutical Journal article ‘MPharm degree fails to equip pharmacists for future roles’

The following response was published by the Pharmaceutical Journal on 03/08/2015.

The Pharmacy Schools Council is concerned by the publication of the article in the Pharmaceutical Journal which appears to declare the ‘failure’ of the current MPharm degree in educating pharmacists for future roles. We strongly disagree with this sentiment, and feel it is extremely important to stress the high-quality of UK MPharm degrees and the excellent graduates these courses produce.

The article and the ‘Tomorrow’s Pharmacy Team’ publication, to which it refers¹, lack any evidence or internationally comparative data to support the assertion that the current MPharm course (as outlined by the GPhC ‘Future pharmacist, Standard for the initial education and training of pharmacists, May 2011) is ill-equipped to meet the demands of the changes in the profession. The GPhC document has noted that the assumptions within ‘Tomorrow’s pharmacy team’ are based on ‘initial conclusions…which we need to test’, which the Pharmacy Schools Council welcomes.

If there is in fact evidence to suggest that the current MPharm does not ‘equip pharmacists with the skills needed to deliver the care and the services that will be expected of them in the future’, it does not necessarily follow that the MPharm itself has failed, as it is meeting and surpassing the standards that have been set by the regulator.

There is a real need to recognise the advances that pharmacy education has made, particularly within the last five years. The current MPharm has seen significant improvements that are only visible in the graduates of 2014/15, who experienced a considerably increased level of clinical exposure throughout their education. Much of this exposure has been introduced early only on within MPharm courses – a strategy which stems from the evidence base that suggests early clinical exposure is particularly valuable. This could prove to be more innovative than proposals which incorporate clinical placements into year four of the programme. The viewpoint set out in this article does not take into account these changes and the impact that they have had on graduates.

Schools are continually developing and responding to the changing healthcare landscape, and to predictions of the roles pharmacists will play in the future. Missing from the document is praise of the education’s ability to meet the demand for creating strong clinical scientists with a sound knowledge of new and complex medicines.

Employers have widely declared that they hope to recruit large numbers of additional pharmacists over the next five years in order to help to fill the gap left by GP shortages in practices and to fill national pilots for pharmacists to work in emergency care departments. This indicates that Trusts already recognise the skills, abilities and value of qualified pharmacists.

‘Integration’ needs to be clearly defined before it can be supported. It needs to be made clear whether this refers to further integrated clinical exposure or to a science-practice integration. This will require an evidence based approach. Integration comprises many options and it is important that this is not rushed through without facilitating a broad understanding and long-term view of what will be needed in the profession in the future. Integration is not a simplistic solution and analysis of what might currently be wrong with pharmacy education has not yet been carried out.

The article also fails to recognise the connection between undergraduate and postgraduate studies. For example; medical graduates are not immediately expected to be experts in all roles and specialities, nor are doctors finishing their F2 medical placements. Whilst pharmacy schools are able to produce highly qualified MPharm graduates, it is unrealistic to suggest that graduates should be able to move into all of the roles pharmacists undertake as soon as they finish their pre-registration year.

The GPhC clearly recognises that standards need to be achievable and affordable. Whilst we agree this should not be the primary focus for change it should be considered to set the parameters and realities of what can be achieved within undergraduate education. It will be impossible to separate the need for greater funding from calls for more intense, integrated clinical training.

The international message that this article portrays for pharmacy education in the UK is a cause for concern. At a time of great opportunity for developing the role of the pharmacist, articles such as this may cast a shadow of doubt over the abilities of the UK’s education system to provide capable graduates.

The Pharmacy Schools Council welcomes the GPhC consultation on ‘Tomorrow’s pharmacy team’, and sees this as an opportunity for further development of the MPharm and for the strengthening of the pharmacist’s role in society. As experts on pharmacy education, we hope to take a leading role in helping to ensure that the best possible outcome for this process is reached.

Professor Yvonne Perrie, Chair, Pharmacy Schools Council
Professor Kay Marshall, Deputy Chair, Pharmacy Schools Council

¹ The GPhC publication that the Pharmaceutical Journal article refers to is currently out to consultation to the public, patients and pharmacy stakeholders. Details of this can be found at