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Pharmacy bodies decry ‘unjust’ exclusion of pharmacy students from learning support

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Three pharmacy bodies have called on the government to allow pharmacy students access to the NHS learning support fund (LSF) currently available to students from other healthcare professions.

Calling it “unjust”,  the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA), and Pharmacy Schools Council (PSC) have voiced their disappointment over continual exclusion of pharmacy students on clinical placements  and asked that pharmacy students are given equal access to the LSF.

The Department of Health and Social Care recently announced a 50 percent increase in travel and accommodation allowances for students in nursing, midwifery, allied health professions, medical, and dental courses. However, this initiative notably excluded pharmacy students.

Enhanced support for training-related trips

The fund allows healthcare students to claim a training grant of up to £5,000 per year plus expenses for excess travel and temporary accommodation costs while on practice placements.

In addition, the government has also expanded support for students in medical, dental, nursing, midwifery, and allied health professions through the NHS Bursary Scheme. The income threshold for a student’s parent or partner to qualify for support will increase from £24,279 to £26,076.

Up to £3,000 is available for childcare support, especially for those studying specific specialisms like radiography or mental health nursing.

‘Discriminatory treatment of pharmacy students’

Pharmacy students embark on clinical placements in diverse care settings and locations. Lack of financial support for travel and accommodation through the Fund could deprive students of crucial experience in rural or coastal areas, where they play a vital role in mitigating health disparities.

According to the pharmacy bodies, the evolution of the pharmacy degree with a heightened focus on clinical practice has led to an increase in clinical placements across various care settings and geographic locations in pharmacy schools.

“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,” they said in the letter.

In the South-West of England, pharmacy students on clinical placements may be as far as 200 miles from their nearest pharmacy school. Without financial assistance, they could be restricted to placements closer to their universities, potentially limiting their broader learning experiences.

The RPS, BPSA, and PSC cautioned that this could hinder students not only from gaining experience in areas with health disparities but also from working in those regions after becoming qualified pharmacists. “This could exacerbate disparities across England’s regions.”

‘Budget constraints may limit rural placements’

Placing students in rural or coastal areas can help address health disparities in these communities and nurture a future pharmacist workforce who may choose to practice there upon qualification.

“Due to the extensive clinical placements required for the new learning outcomes, financial constraints could potentially hinder this placement activity,” the pharmacy bodies warned, while highlighting the importance of comprehensive access to all elements of the Learning Support Fund for pharmacy students.

According to the RPS, BPSA, and PSC, pharmacy students should have access to a training grant, specialist subject payment, parental support, travel and dual accommodation expenses, as well as the exceptional support fund, providing grants of up to £3,000 per academic year for students facing unexpected financial difficulties during their studies.

They stressed that offering financial assistance for pharmacy students’ travel and accommodation would mark a “positive first step.” Referring to the NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan‘s projection that education and training slots for pharmacists need to grow by 31 to 55 percent to meet the demand for pharmacy services, the RPS, BPSA, and PSC strongly affirmed that “pharmacy students must be included in this support.”

‘Pharmacists are vital to healthcare’

Pharmacists are essential to the healthcare workforce, ensuring patient safety, facilitating access to care, and maximising the £17 billion annual expenditure on medicines in England. Beginning in 2026, all new pharmacists will gain independent prescribing status. With proper support, this could lead to a significant shift in how patient care is administered in the NHS, the pharmacy bodies noted.

“As pharmacists take on increasingly clinical roles in the health service, it appears increasingly unfair that pharmacy students are denied the financial support they merit,” said Tase Oputu, Chair of England Pharmacy Board and one of the letter’s signatories. “To meet the demand and ensure the retention of pharmacists, we must rectify this inequity at the outset of their career journey,” Oputu added.

The letter was also signed by BPSA President Nonyelum Anigbo, PSC Chair Professor Katie Maddock, and Professor Ruth Edwards, the PSC representative on the RPS Assembly.

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