The number of pharmacists working in primary care networks (PCNs) in England has increased markedly over the past year, show official NHS figures.
Data published by NHS Digital on 28 July 2022 show that in June 2022 there were 3,294 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists recorded as working in PCNs, rising from 2,552 in June 2021.
Pharmacists are now the most common job role within the PCN workforce, said NHS Digital.
The data show that, taking into account both PCNs and general practice, there were 4,722 FTE pharmacists as of March 2022.
Despite this increase, other sectors of pharmacy are struggling with workforce shortages, with vacancy rates for community pharmacists of up to 12% in some parts of the UK. In hospitals, NHS Benchmarking data for 2018/2019 showed that the pharmacist vacancy rate was 8%.
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.
Commenting on the increase in PCN pharmacists, Graham Stretch, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association, chief pharmacist at Argyle Health Group and clinical director at Brentworth PCN, said that as the PCN pharmacy workforce matures, “they’re doing more advanced tasks within general practice and taking more of those kinds of tasks that previously would have only been able to be done by GPs”.
“I’m very positive, I think it will continue to grow. And that’s a measure of the value that doctors, PCNs, [clinical directors] attach to pharmacists.
“Regardless of what happens in PCNs, I think some level of central funding will undoubtedly continue beyond the five-year plan, because the situation is only getting worse in terms of doctor numbers. Regardless of how it looks, and what it’s called, the reason for the [pharmacy workforce] funding in the first place will not have changed.”
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “The testimony of pharmacy businesses of all sizes, and our own research, shows that many pharmacists are being recruited by PCNs directly from community settings.
“This has added further pressure on the pharmacists and pharmacy teams who choose to stay in community. Coupled with changing workforce patterns and high vacancy rates of pharmacy support staff, the PCN recruitment drive has created a workforce crisis across the community sector.
“We fully support the Health and Social Care Committee’s recent recommendation that an integrated, and fully funded, primary care workforce plan developed. Community pharmacy has now endured eight years of a real terms decrease in funding. The sector is in desperate need of more investment, if it is to continue to deliver for communities.”
In July 2022, MPs recommended that the government should present a draft pharmacy workforce plan to Parliament within 12 months.