More than 100 extra pharmacists employed in mental health community teams since 2019/2020

Exclusive: The Pharmaceutical Journal has found that more than 100 pharmacists have been recruited into community mental health teams across 36 NHS trusts in the past five years.
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At least 100 pharmacists have been employed across community mental health teams for people with severe mental illness (SMI) in England since 2019/2020, an investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed.

The ‘NHS long-term plan’, published in January 2019, set an ambition for “new and integrated models of primary and community mental health care” to support 370,000 adults and older adults with SMI by 2023/24.

This was backed by the ‘NHS mental health implementation plan 2019–2024’, which identified a need for 260 pharmacist posts in these integrated community care teams by April 2024.

The role of pharmacists on these teams is to optimise medicines for people with SMI, such as schizophrenia bipolar disorder and eating disorders, many of whom may be on psychotropic medication, such as clozapine, lithium, valproate and antidepressants.  

A freedom of information (FOI) request sent by The Pharmaceutical Journal in January 2024 to all 49 mental health trusts in England revealed that in 2023/2024 there were 160.95 whole-time equivalent (WTE) pharmacists working in adult SMI community services across the 43 mental health trusts that responded. 

The data also show that there were 24.28 WTE vacancies for pharmacists in community mental health teams in the 43 trusts, amounting to a total of 185.23 WTE pharmacist roles.  

Of the mental health trusts that responded to the FOI request, 36 provided data about the number of pharmacists in post in community mental health teams in 2019/2020 — when the ‘NHS long-term plan’ was launched.

At that time, there were 27.0 WTE pharmacists in post in community mental health teams across these trusts, compared with 128.25 WTE in 2023/2024, an increase of more than 100 pharmacists in post over the five years. 

A spokesperson for NHS England told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “The key thing is that the NHS is delivering these services for patients and continuing to expand and transform the community offer, with 440,230 adults with serious mental illness treated in community services in the 12 months to January 2024 — exceeding the target of 370,000”.

They added that the ‘NHS mental health implementation plan 2019/20–2023/24‘ “sets out an indicative workforce profile by staff group, which was developed to inform local planning” and “should not be used to measure progress”.

“The ‘mental health implementation plan’ was intended to support local systems to deliver the mental health commitments in the ‘NHS long-term plan’ and this was never a target,” they said.

“Community mental health transformation remains a priority going forward and, in partnership with key stakeholders, we will determine future priorities beyond 2024/2025 and which will align to the ‘NHS long-term workforce plan’,” they added.

  • This article was amended on 2 May 2024 to correct the number of mental health trusts in England
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2024, Vol 312, No 7984;312(7984)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.310427

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