Bodies urge government to support pharmacy students financially
By Neil Trainis
Pharmacy bodies have expressed their disappointment over the government’s decision to continue excluding pharmacy students on clinical placements from its Learning Support Fund and warned ministers they must be helped to meet their travel and accommodation expenses otherwise their training will be “curtailed by financial constraints.”
In a letter to the health minister Will Quince, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), British Pharmaceutical Students' Association (BPSA) and Pharmacy Schools Council (PSC) outlined their concerns about the Department of Health and Social Care’s announcement this month that students on nursing, midwifery, allied health professions, medical and dental courses, but not those studying pharmacy, will be able to claim 50 per cent more for travel and accommodation.
Students will be able to claim more money for trips taken as part of their training. Someone travelling 1,000 miles by car or motorcycle during their placement, for example, will see their travel support increase from £280 to £420.
The government also said it will increase the level of support for medical, dental, nursing, midwifery and allied health professions students through the NHS Bursary Scheme by raising the amount a student’s parent or partner can earn before they are eligible for support from £24,279 to £26,076.
In their letter, the RPS, BPSA and PSC reminded the government that students studying pharmacy degrees are sent on clinical placements across different care settings in a variety of locations but warned those students could be prevented from gaining invaluable experience of working in rural or coastal areas where they can help address health inequalities if they do not receive financial help with their travel and accommodation through the Fund.
“As the pharmacy degree has evolved to include a greater emphasis on clinical practice, pharmacy schools are delivering a growing number of clinical placements across a range of care settings and geographies,” the bodies wrote.
“At present there is no direct support for pharmacy students travelling to these locations and this depends on the individual university. This is particularly acute for students in clinical placements in more rural areas.”
In the South-West of England, the bodies said, pharmacy students on clinical placements could be as far as 200 hundred miles from their nearest pharmacy school and without financial assistance, “could be blocked from these wider learning experiences” and restricted to placements closer to their universities.
That, the bodes warned, could prevent students from not only learning their trade in areas where there are health inequalities but working in those vicinities once they have qualified as pharmacists, thus “further widening disparities across England’s regions.”
“Placing students into rural or coastal locations can help manage the health inequalities that these communities experience and generate a pipeline of future pharmacists who may wish to return to work in those locations once qualified,” they wrote, warning that “given extensive clinical placements are required to deliver the new learning outcomes, there is a real risk that this placement activity will be curtailed by financial constraints.”
The RPS, BPSA and PSC said they “ideally” wanted pharmacy students to have access to all parts of the Learning Support Fund, including a training grant, specialist subject payment, parental support, travel and dual accommodation expenses and the exceptional support fund which gives students who experience unforeseen financial hardship during their studies a grant of up to £3,000 per academic year.
However, the bodies said if pharmacy students were supported financially with their travel and accommodation, it would be a “positive first step.” Pointing to the NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan’s own estimate that education and training places for pharmacists needs to grow by 31 per cent to 55 per cent to meet the demand for pharmacy services, the RPS, BPSA and PSC insisted “pharmacy students must be included in this support.”
The England Pharmacy Board chair Tase Oputu, who was one of the signatories to the letter, said: “As pharmacists are playing a more clinical role in the health service, it seems more and more unjust that pharmacy students are excluded from the financial support they deserve.
“If we are to attract and retain the pharmacists, we need to meet demand, this inequity at the very start of their career journey must be addressed.”
The letter was also signed by BPSA president Nonyelum Anigbo, the PSC chair professor Katie Maddock and professor Ruth Edwards, the PSC representative on the RPS Assembly.