NHS Digital data show that just over half of primary care networks (PCNs) have reported hiring a pharmacist under the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS).
The data found that as of December 2020, 658 PCNs recorded hiring a total of 1,375 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists.
However, 595 PCNs had either not hired a pharmacist or not recorded hiring a pharmacist.
The news comes as evidence submitted to the Health and Social Care Select Committee from the Health Foundation said that “3,100 more [FTE] pharmacists would need to be working in general practice” by 2028/2029 to make up for a shortfall in GPs.
The data, published by NHS Digital on 25 February 2021, uses reports from the National Workforce Reporting System, through which PCNs input workforce data, but does not differentiate between PCNs that have not recorded any data and those that have recorded no hires.
As of December 2020, some 60% of the 1,253 PCNs had submitted data through the reporting system.
The data show that PCNs across 22 clinical commissioning groups had not reported employing a pharmacist.
Meanwhile, the data also show that 185 PCNs have reported hiring a total of 215 pharmacy technicians.
PCNs have been able to use their allocated funding to hire from a range of ten professions, including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, since February 2020, when NHS England wrote to CCGs “forecasting an underspend” on their allocated funding to hire only pharmacists and social prescribers in 2019/2020.
The funding, which was first announced in the GP contract in January 2019, initially enabled every PCN to claim £37,810 to cover the costs of hiring one additional pharmacist, as part of wider plans to fund “expanded community multidisciplinary teams” in each network.
The contract was later updated with the announcement that PCNs could claim £55,670 per pharmacist and £35,389 per pharmacy technician.
An investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal, the results of which were published in July 2020, had previously revealed that 295 PCNs in CCGs that had responded to a Freedom of Information request had either not hired or not claimed NHS funding for hiring a pharmacist.
In a briefing document, published in June 2019, NHS England suggested that “by 2023/2024, a typical PCN … could choose to have its own team of approximately six WTE clinical pharmacists”.
However, the Company Chemists’ Association warned in February 2019 that PCNs may face recruitment issues, saying NHS England’s plan to hire six pharmacists in each PCN “doesn’t marry” with attempts to recruit into the profession.
Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, said that pharmacists could play a vital role in supporting the delivery plans of PCNs.
“As a result of the demands of the pandemic, those PCNs that haven’t yet appointed a pharmacist should do so in order to support their current workloads,” she said.