A workforce plan for pharmacy should be developed and laid before Parliament within 12 months, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee has said.
The recommendation for an “integrated and funded” workforce plan was made within the committee’s report on ‘Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care’, published on 25 July 2022, following an inquiry by the Committee into staff shortages across the NHS, which opened in November 2021.
The report says the workforce plan “must ensure that all pharmacists have adequate access to supervision, training and protected learning time, along with clear structures for professional career development into advanced and consultant-level practice”.
It adds that the plan “must consider that by 2027 all newly qualified pharmacists will be independent prescribers and ensure that these graduates are given protected learning time, adequate supervision, and career development opportunities”.
The committee’s recommendations take on board evidence given by Ravi Sharma, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
During an oral evidence session on 24 May 2022, Sharma called for a “comprehensive workforce strategy for pharmacy that embeds structured career development for pharmacists wherever they may be working”.
He added that a “commission from the government to look at workforce wellbeing pressures in relation to pharmacy” and [obtaining] “more comprehensive workforce data for pharmacy and pharmacy teams” could be done quickly and would help support the pharmacy workforce.
The committee’s report also quotes Sharma’s comment that protected learning time is “one of the key factors in what pharmacists are saying to us would improve their wellbeing”.
Commenting on the report, Sharma said: “[The report] underlines the urgent need for the government to set out a comprehensive workforce plan for health and [social] care.
“It rightly recognises that boosting recruitment and retention, supporting staff wellbeing, fostering inclusion and diversity, and investing in education and training will be crucial to the future of the NHS. Pharmacy teams will play a key role in the NHS recovery, but with continued pressures on staff, we need support for the workforce so they can keep looking after patients.”
Sharma also pointed out that having pharmacists become independent prescribers at the point of registration from 2026 “will make a huge difference to patient care”, but added that there are key factors required to help them make the most of their skills.
“I would urge the government and NHS to listen to the Committee’s call for an integrated and funded workforce plan for pharmacy, which ensures that all pharmacists have adequate access to supervision, training and protected learning time, along with clear structures for professional development.”
In January 2022, Health Education England’s Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey revealed that 8% of all full-time equivalent pharmacist posts were vacant in 2021.
Meanwhile, in The Pharmaceutical Journal’s 2021 salary survey, nearly three-quarters (73%) of pharmacists selected ‘staff absence’ as a reason for stress at work. And the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s ‘2021 Safer Pharmacies Survey‘ found that just 2.6% of pharmacists said that their place of work always has safe staffing levels.
The committee’s report warns of a growing retention and recruitment problem across NHS healthcare, stating that “demand on the health and social care sector continues to grow relentlessly with an extra 475,000 jobs needed in health and 490,000 jobs needed in social care by the early part of the next decade”.
However, it says that “the government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively”, adding that “the persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care”.
Commenting on the report, Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: “We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.
“NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem, but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new prime minister.”