Staff shortage has begun to bite the community pharmacy sector with several high street pharmacies closing doors due to workforce crisis triggered by the NHS poaching.

More than 200 pharmacies closed last year and several are reducing their hours, posing a significant risk to patients’ access to care, medicines and advice.

Many in the industry have raised concerns related to workforce crisis and warned that plans for community pharmacies to help ease pressure on GP surgeries could also take a hit.

The NHS plans to recruit a total of 6,000 pharmacists in England by 2024, equivalent to nearly three full years of new pharmacists.

Since 2019, 3,000 pharmacists have been recruited into NHS primary care networks, which accounts for around 10 per cent of the community pharmacist workforce.

At the same time the government is promoting plans to send more patients with minor illnesses to pharmacies to ease the strain on GPs.

Moreover, pharmacies are also expected to play a role in vaccination booster programmes.

Both the the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) and Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) have raised concerns about the scale of pharmacies closures and migration of workers.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the AIMp, said: “The NHS’s primary care networks – GPs and clinics – have been told by NHS England to recruit 6,000 pharmacists by 2024 and that this cost will be funded by the NHS, creating an uneven playing field that pharmacies who are in year five of a seven-year funding cut cannot compete with. Where will they come from? Mostly from already stretched community pharmacies.

“It is madness, Even crazier, the move to entice pharmacists away comes just at the point the NHS is encouraging community pharmacies to help alleviate the pressures on GPs by offering additional services. How can they supply those when they are struggling with workforce pressure? It’s the right hand paying no attention as to what the left is doing.”

Malcolm Harrison, the chief executive of the CCA, said: “The current NHS recruitment drive is rapidly depleting the community pharmacist workforce and if this continues the plans will fall at the first hurdle.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told The Times: “We are monitoring the impact of the recruitment of pharmacists into primary care networks and continue to work with the sector to ensure the best outcome for patients.”

Reasons of pharmacies closure

  • Currently, there is a shortage of qualified pharmacists who could provide the NHS prescribed medicines and offer other services such as flu vaccination. Staff crunch is forcing pharmacies to cut down hours or close altogether.
  • Having worked tirelessly during the pandemic, pharmacists are suffering a burnout, and absences related to Covid-19 and other winter bugs are adding to the strain.
  • Brexit has made it difficult to recruit overseas pharmacists despite the profession being on the Home Office’s shortage occupation list earlier this year.
  • Incentives of working in the NHS such as better pay, pension benefits is also responsible for migration of pharmacists from pharmacies.

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