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Pharmacy bodies’ reaction on newly revealed ‘NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan’

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The government has unveiled its much awaited ‘NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan‘ to tackle the staff shortage in the pharmacy sector. The plan set out an ambition to increase the training places for pharmacists to around 5,000 places by 2031/32.

David Webb, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England, in his open letter to pharmacy professionals said: “The NHS LTWP sets out how we can build on changes, addressing the changing needs of patients over the next 15 years, by closing the current workforce shortfall through funding for increased education and training places and a comprehensive retention strategy.”

The plan commits to expand training places for pharmacists by 29% to around 4,300 by 2028/29 and Grow the number of pharmacy technicians in future years.

“The development of independent prescribing as part of initial education and training is a gamechanger for pharmacists, patients and the NHS, with approximately 2,800 newly registered pharmacist independent prescribers due to join the workforce every year from September 2026,” said Webb.

“This will be transformational for all pharmacy teams, creating improved access and quality of care for patients and, importantly, a more flexible workforce with skills that are equally applicable in all pharmacy settings, enabling multi-professional clinical teams to work in new ways.”

The letter also highlighted that currently NHS England is building opportunities for community pharmacists to use new independent prescribing skills as part of integrated primary care teams. It is establishing community pharmacy independent prescribing pathfinders in every ICB to inform a future commissioning framework.

Strategies for increasing access to prescribing supervision and creating a culture where existing pharmacist independent prescribers train to become Designated Prescribing Practitioners (DPP) and Designated Supervisors as part of their career development are being implemented.

This includes the procurement of 500 training places for DPP supervision skills development in 2023, ensuring the NHS is ready to support and mentor the new workforce of independent prescribers from 2026.

As is the case with many healthcare professions, the scope of practice for pharmacy technicians is also being broadened to make the most effective use of their skills, training and potential as registered, multi-professional healthcare team members.

The letter also revealed that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is due to launch a public consultation on legislative changes which would allow pharmacy technicians to make use of Patient Group Directions – enabling them to legally supply prescription medicines, where appropriate.

It stressed that developing the role of pharmacy technicians would also enable pharmacists to move further into a mainstream independent prescribing role.

“To improve access to healthcare and the career satisfaction of current community pharmacists, NHS England is also introducing independent prescribing and broader clinical skills development for community pharmacists through the investment from the Pharmacy Integration Programme; and investing in training the current community pharmacy technician workforce to enable them to take on more responsibility for clinical services and in managing dispensing activity,” said Webb.

Pharmacy bodies’ reaction

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) welcomed the publication of the NHS Long-Term Workforce plan. It believes improved workforce planning is fundamental to making this happen by ensuring that the sector has the staff and skills it needs to support patient care.

Tase Oputu, Chair of RPS in England, said: “Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and wider pharmacy teams will be crucial to reducing health inequalities and supporting the health service of the future so that patients can continue to access the medicines and care they need.”

“With pharmacists delivering more clinical services and with growing numbers of pharmacist independent prescribers, it’s encouraging to see the plan commit to investing in pharmacy education and training.

“Pharmacy teams tell us they also need protected time for learning and development, as well as for contributing to research or developing new services, alongside measures to reduce staff burnout.

“We all want to see improved support for our workforce so we can keep looking after patients. How this plan is put into practice, backed by long-term funding, will be key to its success.”

The long awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan maps out a strategy to recruit and retain hundreds of thousands more staff spanning 15 years. Its projections suggest that, by 2036/37, the NHS could have at least 60,000 more doctors, 170,000 more nurses and 71,000 more allied health professionals.

Community Pharmacy England has ensured that it will work to see that the proposals will be implemented in a way that benefits the workforce situation in our sector.

Alastair Buxton, Director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “The NHS workforce crisis has been hitting community pharmacy owners incredibly hard, contributing to locum rates going up a staggering 85% in one year alone and becoming the number one cause of temporary pharmacy closures.”

“The impact on pharmacy teams has been enormous, adding to their already pressured workload, so it is good that NHS England and the Government are finally taking a proactive approach to workforce planning and including community pharmacy within that.”

The association stated that significant investment would be required to make that approach a financially viable scenario for pharmacy owners.

Buxton added: “The success or failure of this workforce plan will depend on its implementation. NHS England must not repeat previous mistakes – the failure to plan properly for the impact of the ARRS scheme on community pharmacies has been disastrous for many pharmacy owners – and we need assurance that pharmacy will not fall through the gaps as systems take on responsibility for workforce planning, including the need for them to work with Local Pharmaceutical Committees in England.

“Community pharmacy wants to do more, but pharmacies need affordable and available pharmacists and other staff members in order to do so. This workforce plan must deliver that.”

‘Sad Day for Community Pharmacy’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive at Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) has described the plan as ‘another kick in the teeth for our sector’.

She said: “We were waiting with high hopes for the publication of the NHS Workforce Plan, thinking that potential of our sector and its current workforce challenges could be recognised – but it is another kick in the teeth for our sector and comes ahead of an enquiry that has judged us before the evidence is heard.”

“Community pharmacy is currently facing the biggest challenges to its workforce and this NHS Workforce Plan is doing very little to help. In fact, contrary to the claims from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Association of Pharmacy Technicians, the proposals outlined in the plan will only deepen the crisis besetting our sector.”

The lack of a level playing field for community pharmacy created by the ARRS scheme contributed to a workforce crisis in our sector, this at a time when community pharmacies are being asked to do more. Unfortunately, this is going to continue under the new plans.

The concept of extended multidisciplinary working across primary care smacks of a desire to see service delivery via extended channels, namely PCNs and primary care, with less reliance upon the community network. Why not invest in community pharmacy instead, by providing adequate funding for the sector to invest in its workforce?”

She appreciated the announcement on the Independent Prescribing scheme, but believes that it can only work in community pharmacy when there is financial stability around improved core community pharmacy funding in addition to funding (in line with GP practices) for this prescribing service.

Plus, GP teams would need educating to ensure that agreed areas of prescribing are then referred to the pharmacist IP in their respective communities.

She further added” “As for easing the regulatory burden through automation, this is far away from reality. Somehow, it’s imagined that automation will suddenly come to the rescue and strip this volume into some magical central dispensary. It won’t, and if the NHS bosses do not wake up to this and stop living in that dream world, they will find the community pharmacy network becomes so fragmented it is no longer able to meet the healthcare needs of communities up and down the country.

Whatever the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Association of Pharmacy Technicians maintain, this is a sad day for community pharmacy.”

In a joint statement from  Chief Executive of National Pharmacy Association (NPA) Mark Lyonette and Chief Executive of Comany Chemists’ Association (CCA) Malcom Harrison commented: “We are doubtful about the decision to continue funding of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS).”

“ARRS only makes sense if it is adding capacity to the primary care system, not stripping capacity from other community and secondary care settings. However, the plan does at least recognise the need to “carefully manage” the expansion of ARRS and consider the additional capacity required to staff roles across primary care. We have consistently called for the impact on community pharmacies to be mitigated and we now look forward to further details.

“Any action must be coordinated at a national as well as ICB-level, if it is to be truly effective, and to prevent systems competing against each other for resources.

“First announced back in 2021, Independent Prescribing (IP) changes will create a once in a generation opportunity – the NHS must now be clearer on the opportunities prescribing pharmacists will have in the future. Plans to upskill the existing workforce to become IPs must also gather pace, the need is now and we must work together to realise opportunity.

“Efforts to boost skill mix, including the use of pharmacy technicians are welcome. Technicians should be added to the list of healthcare professionals who can work under a Patient Group Direction”.

 

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