More than 26,000 additional general practice staff have been recruited one year earlier than planned, the UK government has claimed.
In a statement published on 18 May 2023, the government said that 29,103 additional primary care staff had been recruited since March 2019, “a year ahead of the March 2024 pledge”.
In 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto promised “6,000 more primary care professionals, such as physiotherapists and pharmacists,” in addition to the “20,000 primary care professionals that we have already announced”.
However, in an open letter to GPs, published on 24 April 2023, NHS England said, more specifically, that the “ARRS [Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme] is intended to deliver 26,000 extra staff by 2023/24”.
This target was also set out in the NHS’s people plan — ‘We are the NHS: people plan 2020/2021‘ — published in July 2020.
The ARRS scheme was announced in January 2019 as part of the five-year GP contract agreed by the British Medical Association and NHS England, enabling primary care networks (PCNs) to claim funding for the recruitment of certain patient care roles.
According to NHS England, ARRS funding can be claimed for recruiting 1 of 17 roles, including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that the additional 26,000 recruits include roles covered by the ARRS as well as other staff, such as phlebotomists and health support workers.
The DHSC used quarterly primary care workforce data, updated on 31 March 2023, which show there were 40,242 full-time equivalent direct patient care staff in primary care, including 7,231 pharmacists — 6,331 more than were in place as of March 2019. The figures combine data on “workforce for general practice and primary care network staff”.
Meanwhile, data on the ‘Primary Care Network Workforce’, published by NHS England on 27 April 2023, show that just 18,177 direct patient care staff are in place in PCNs, of which 17,424 are in roles for which ARRS funding can be claimed as of March 2023. This includes 4,440 pharmacists.
A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “The manifesto commitment was that we increase the primary care workforce by 26,000 by March 2024, which is what we’ve done.”
In the statement published on 18 May 2023, Steve Barclay, health and social care secretary, said: “We have delivered on our promise a year early to recruit 26,000 extra primary care professionals, which means more clinicians delivering better, more specialised and accessible care to patients.”
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, previously called on the government to stop the recruitment of pharmacists into PCNs, instead suggesting the government “look at workforce planning across primary care”.
However, speaking at the Clinical Pharmacy Congress in London on 13 May 2023, Richard Cattell, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer, showed a slide that said that the “government has indicated support for ARRS roles to continue post 2023/2024”.
In a statement on primary care staff numbers, Nick Kaye, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said: “[The ARRS] has the unintended consequence of stripping away patient-facing professionals from community pharmacies, making pharmaceutical care less rather than more accessible overall.
“Recruitment into ARRS roles should not be considered in isolation as a matter for GP practices only. Workforce plans should take into account the whole of primary care, including community pharmacy,” he said.
“With that approach, investment in staff across the system could be much more productive and connect all the available resources. Taking the integration mindset a step further, why can’t ARRS roles be considered for the community pharmacy setting too?”
- This article was amended on 23 May 2023