The number of pharmacy professionals working in primary care networks (PCNs) in England continues to expand, including an increasing number of advanced pharmacist practitioners.
Data released by NHS England on 26 January 2023 show, as of December 2022, there were 330 full-time equivalent (FTE) advanced pharmacist practitioner roles in PCNs. In March 2022, 56 such roles were recorded, with none recorded prior to that date.
The actual headcount for the roles was higher, with 388 people working at this level.
The rapid increase comes amid another large increase in the overall number of pharmacists working in PCNs. Between December 2021 and December 2022, the number of FTE pharmacists in PCNs rose from 2,923 to 3,880 — a 33% increase over the year.
The number of FTE pharmacy technician roles rose by 83% over the same period, from 682 in December 2021 to 1,246 in December 2022.
Pharmacists are one of several roles for which PCNs can claim funding for, under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS).
NHS England said that ‘pharmacist’ remains “the most common job role in the PCN workforce”.
But numbers are lower than predicted. In March 2019, the Londonwide Local Medical Committees, which represents GPs across London, estimated that, across England, PCNs would need around 7,500 clinical pharmacists by 2023/2024.
Graham Stretch, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association, chief pharmacist at Argyle Health Group and clinical director at Brentworth PCN, said: “From my perspective, of course, I welcome the increase in recruitment. And I think that it demonstrates that there is ongoing interest from our profession to work within primary care networks.
“There are also increasing numbers of advanced practitioners, which is encouraging,” he said, adding that it is “a way of demonstrating that there has been a growing commitment to onward education beyond the CPPE [Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education] primary care pharmacy certification pathway”.
“So, I’m hugely encouraged by the increasing numbers, because it would tend to suggest that there was indeed now several hundred advanced practitioners who are supported by their networks to carry on with their training up to advanced level.”
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, was not as positive about the move. She said: “While we understand and want to help relieve the pressure on our general practice colleagues, the NHS tactic of poaching community pharmacy staff to work in general practices is absurd and [is] having very damaging consequences for community pharmacies.
“The ARRS has vastly increased the number of pharmacists being recruited into PCNs, resulting in spiralling locum costs up 80% in the past year. The policy is exacerbating pharmacy workforce problems, which is leaving many pharmacies understaffed and forced to close their doors temporarily to patients.”
In a statement issued in September 2022, NHS England said that it encouraged PCNs to continue to recruit under the ARRS scheme, “making full use of their ARRS entitlement to improve access to care and support for patients, with the knowledge that support for these staff will continue”.
However, a report — published by independent think tank The King’s Fund on 4 March 2022 and commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care — found that PCN pharmacists are “underappreciated” by GPs and often given tasks below their competency level.