Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Supplying pharmacy graduates – a consultation

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Health Education England (HEE) are consulting on the supply of pharmacy graduates in England.

This follows a request from the Government for both organisations to review the current arrangements for the study of pharmacy, and the publication of a report by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence on the future pharmacist workforce.

The consultation will address concerns that there may be an over-supply of pharmacy graduates, compared with the demand for registered pharmacists and the consequent availability of pre-registration placements in the NHS.

The HEFCE/HEE joint consultation proposes three options: 

  • To continue to allow the market to determine the number of pharmacy graduates.
  • To introduce an intake control at each university for entrants to MPharm pharmacy programmes.
  • To create a break-point during study which enables some students to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and others to progress through further study to qualify as registered pharmacists.

The consultation is aimed at a wide range of stakeholders, including universities, employers, regulators, professional bodies and students. It is open until 15 November and the outcomes and next steps will be published in early 2014. This first stage will be followed by a more detailed second-stage consultation in 2014. Any changes are likely to take effect from the 2015-16 academic year. HEFCE and HEE are keen to ensure that the interests of current and prospective students are fully respected at all points in this process.

Key facts

  • There are 37,900 pharmacists registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council practising in England.
  • Student intakes in pharmacy have grown from 1,390 in 1998 to 3,100 in 2012.
  • In 2012-13 there were 3,104 home and EU students and 643 (21 per cent) international fee paying students in the first year of MPharm programmes in England.
  • At present 21 English universities are accredited for the MPharm course compared with 12 in 2002. A further two are seeking full accreditation in the next two years.

Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said: 

‘This is a pivotal moment for pharmacy education and training, and this consultation offers everyone with an interest in this matter an opportunity to give their views on the future direction of travel. We do not have a firm view but it will be especially important to consider the impact of any decision on the wider population, patients in the NHS and current and prospective students who wish to pursue a professional careers in pharmacy.’

Professor Chris Welsh, Director of Education and Quality at HEE, said:

‘Having the right number of staff with the right skills and attitudes is of course central to patient care. Through this consultation, we are looking to explore, with employers, universities, students, professional bodies and patient groups, the best options available to deliver safe, effective use of medicines and public health by pharmacists and their teams. Delivering a pharmacist workforce, fit for the future, is how we can ensure, above everything else, that we provide safe and high quality care to patients’.


  1. The consultation: ‘Ensuring a sustainable supply of pharmacy graduates: Proposals for consultation’ (HEFCE 2013/19) is available on the HEFCE web-site. The letter from David Willetts is Annex A to the consultation.
  2. See the CfWI report.
  3. Undergraduate programmes in pharmacy consist of four years of study leading to an MPharm or MPharm (Hons). The MPharm is the only qualification in the UK which leads to professional registration as a pharmacist. MPharm programmes are accredited by the General Pharmaceutical Council. Pharmacists qualify by completing this degree, then undertaking a year of pre-registration training with an employer, often the NHS. On successful completion of this training, and after passing the pre-registration exam, they become registered pharmacists.
  4. Unlike medicine and dentistry, for which numbers are controlled centrally, there is currently no control on the number of students studying pharmacy.