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Survey: Total community pharmacy workforce drops 6 per cent in a year


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The full-time equivalent community pharmacy workforce saw a 6 per cent decline in a year, while the overall number of pharmacists remains nearly constant, according to NHS England’s Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey 2022.

However, vacancy rates among pharmacists rose 16 percent, suggesting an increased reliance on locum pharmacists who, on average, work fewer hours, the data revealed.

According to NHSE, the mandated survey released (Aug. 3) achieved a 95 per cent completion rate among pharmacy contractors, marking a substantial increase compared to only 47 per cent in the previous year.

The survey results indicate a shift in working patterns within community pharmacy, with locum pharmacists being utilised more frequently as part of the staffing model.

The survey revealed a 6 per cent decrease in the community pharmacy workforce across all roles combined. The number of full-time equivalent pharmacists working in community pharmacy decreased by 2,411, from 20,255 in 2021 to 17,844 in 2022, the survey found.

The employed pharmacists decreased by 16 per cent from 12,774 in 2021 to 10,943 in 2022, while locum pharmacists increased by 26 per cent from 4,297 in 2021 to 5,477 in 2022, NHSE said.

However, the total headcount of community pharmacists remained ‘almost constant’ between 2021 and 2022, suggesting a trend of pharmacists working fewer hours in a community setting, it said.

Between autumn 2021, when the last survey was conducted, and autumn 2022, upon which these results are based, there was a significant 37 per cent increase in the number of reported independent prescribers (IPs) working within community pharmacy.

The survey indicated a potential shift in skills mix, showing a slight growth in the number of pharmacy technicians working as accuracy checkers, increasing from 2,368 in 2021 to 2,525 in 2022.

While there was an increase in the number of trainee dispensing assistants and medicines counter assistants, the survey indicated a reduction in the numbers of foundation pharmacists and pre-registration trainee pharmacy technicians.

The headcount of pre-registration pharmacy technicians working in community pharmacy declined from 957 in autumn 2021 to 793 in autumn 2022. The number of foundation pharmacists in community pharmacy decreased by 130 between autumn 2021 and autumn 2022, dropping from 1,583 to 1,453.

Shaping future investments

NHSE released the 2022 survey on Aug. 3, which follow the earlier release of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan in June this year. There is an upcoming snapshot survey scheduled for autumn 2023.

The survey’s insights are being utilised to shape future investments in education, training, and workforce planning across all sectors of pharmacy, NHSE said. “This includes an ongoing review of the impact of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) and strategic planning for multidisciplinary roles in the future.”

“Healthcare systems require high quality and transparent workforce data to plan and deliver safe care, improve patient outcomes, and inform staff training and development,” said Alan Ryan, National Director of Education at NHSE. “Following the publication of the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the findings of the Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey are more important than ever.”

“The new requirement for a mandatory survey recognises the priority the NHS places on the community pharmacy workforce, and the importance of collecting consistent, accurate data to support effective workforce planning across primary care,” Ryan added.

“A wide range of work is being carried out by NHS England to develop the pharmacy professionals and the wider team members across all sectors of pharmacy. These emerging annual data sets will not only inform that work but will also help employers and workforce leads in Integrated Care Boards to build a picture of the whole pharmacy workforce in their locality,” he said.

CCA raises concerns 

The Company Chemist Association welcomed the results, acknowledging their significance in understanding the community pharmacy workforce’s adaptability to meet evolving patient needs. However, the association expressed concern over potential data obsolescence, as the information cited in these findings was collected 10 months ago.

“Since the autumn of 2022, the situation in community pharmacy has continued to evolve,” said Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of CCA. “Future surveys will require faster processing and publication to inform accurate decision-making effectively.”

“The survey findings confirm what we have been saying for over a year, that pharmacist vacancy rates in community pharmacy have significantly increased since 2021,” Harrison added. “Following the recent release of the NHS workforce plan, immediate action must be taken to address this growing problem.”

CCA also raised concern about the 37 per cent increase in the number of Independent Prescribers. “We are concerned, however, that this does not reflect the whole picture,” he said. “The 37 per cent increase only accounts for a rise of 1.6 per cent in the total community pharmacist workforce, growing from 4.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent.”

“We want to have 95 per cent of community pharmacists as prescribers by 2030. However, there is still a long way to go before the public can expect to find a prescriber in every pharmacy,” Harrison said.


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