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‘A call to action for policy makers to address the looming pharmacy workforce crisis’

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The Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group (CPWDG) has called upon policymakers to take action in response to the 2022 Community Pharmacy Workforce survey for England, which revealed a significant workforce reduction.

The survey found a steady decrease in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy support staff from 2017 to 2022, with no signs of a slowdown. In response, it presented four recommendations to the Government and the NHS, aimed at ensuring that the sector can effectively adapt to the evolving needs of patients.

CPWDG’s findings indicate that vacancy rates are on the rise, reaching nearly 25 per cent, or 1 in 4 roles, in certain regions, accompanied by a noticeable shift in working patterns.

Its analysis revealed the following trends:

  • 13 per cent decrease in full-time equivalent (FTE) community pharmacists from 2021 to 2022.
  • 20 per cent decrease in FTE pharmacy technicians between 2017 and 2022.
  • 10 per cent decrease in FTE pharmacy support staff between 2017 and 2022.
  • 300 per cent increase in FTE community pharmacist vacancies between 2017 and 2022.
  • 375 per cent increase in FTE pharmacy technician vacancies between 2017 and 2022.
  • 210 per cent increase in the average FTE pharmacy support staff vacancies between 2017 and 2022.

In 2022, locums accounted for a larger share of the pharmacist workforce compared to 2021, comprising 31 per cent of the total FTE workforce, up from 21 per cent in 2021. The analysis showed that community pharmacies are increasingly dependent on temporary staffing to address staff shortages and maintain their operations.

Addressing the challenge of historic underfunding

CPWDG is a cross-sector working group that unites education, training, and professional workforce leaders in the community pharmacy sector. It serves as a forum for employer-representative organisations to discuss and address workforce challenges. Its member organisations include Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, The Company Chemists’ Association and National Pharmacy Association.

CPWDG members have repeatedly stressed the need to address historic underfunding. However, funding reductions, coupled with the increasing demand for services, have resulted in a downward spiral of heightened pressure and workforce shortages. The report suggested that additional resources would allow for the employment of more support staff.

CPWDG stated that increasing pressure in the sector is evident. ARRS recruitment is not the only factor contributing to the workforce crisis, but it is intensifying an already precarious situation. For instance, in June 2023, there were 1,617 FTE pharmacy technicians working in ARRS-funded Primary Care Network (PCN) roles.

Instead of relocating pharmacists to different settings, CPWDG called on authorities to optimise the skill mix within the pharmacy profession. The organisation added that there’s a concern that colleagues who receive additional training may choose to depart from community settings in favor of sectors where they can fully utilise their enhanced skills, such as primary care.”

Key recommendations

CPWDG urged the government and the NHS to implement the following four recommendations, ensuring that patients can access care when and where they need it the most:

  • Immediate adoption of the Supervision Practice Group’s recommendations: Pharmacy teams should have the ability to delegate tasks to the most suitable staff members, thereby allowing pharmacists to allocate more time to patient-facing care.
  • Training: We aim to have 95 per cent of all community pharmacists equipped with prescribing qualifications by 2030.
  • Addressing the effects of ARRS recruitment: Local systems should leverage community pharmacies to provide funded “care packages” on behalf of PCNs.
  • Urgent funding review: We advocate for an immediate assessment of funding to enable the hiring of additional staff, alleviating pressure and bolstering retention efforts.

Meanwhile, CPWDG also suggested that the sector has untapped potential. “There are significant opportunities to maximise the use of skill diversity within the pharmacy profession. However, ambitious commissioning is essential to encourage businesses to invest in training and enhance the skills of their colleagues.

Community pharmacy should possess the flexibility to provide more extensive clinical care,” said Marc Donovan, Chair of CPWDG. “Currently, the sector faces significant limitations. Funding reductions have compelled pharmacy businesses to implement efficiency measures, resulting in reduced staff numbers and mounting workforce pressures. We advocate for immediate actions to leverage the skill diversity within pharmacy teams, enabling pharmacists to allocate more time to patient-facing care. Moreover, by 2030, we must see 95 percent of all community pharmacists equipped with prescribing qualifications.”

Unless the suggested changes and additional funding are implemented, Donovan warned that the workforce crisis will deepen, and there is a possibility that the sector’s full potential may remain unrealised, denying patients the chance to access enhanced care from their local pharmacy.

In June, Community Pharmacy England commented that the repercussions of the NHS workforce crisis extend beyond general practice, affecting community pharmacies as well. This statement came in response to a report published by the General Medical Council, which warned of burnout in the workforce. The report underscored the need for immediate measures to disrupt a harmful cycle of overwhelming workloads, job dissatisfaction, and burnout, leading many UK doctors to contemplate leaving their profession.

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Current Issue March 2024

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