Pharmacists excluded from shortage occupation list despite recruitment concerns

Despite being told of difficulties in recruiting pharmacists in the UK, a government advisory committee has declined to put pharmacists back on the ‘shortage occupation list’.

Empty pharmacy counter

A government advisory committee has excluded pharmacists from the ‘shortage occupation list’ (SOL), despite several stakeholders reporting difficulties in recruitment.  

Following a full review of the list, which catalogues skilled jobs for which there is understood to be a UK-wide shortage of suitably qualified resident candidates, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) noted “some difficulties in recruiting pharmacists especially in remote locations”, but added that there was a “below average vacancy rate over the past five years” and, therefore, did not recommend adding pharmacists to the list.

Their findings also highlighted a recent fall in the use of tier 2 visas to recruit skilled candidates from outside the EEA. Pharmacists were placed on the SOL in 2008, and removed in 2011. 

During a nine-week call for evidence, which opened on 9 November 2018, Boots told the MAC that it was experiencing a low number of applicants for pharmacist roles, which it partly put down to the requirement for shift work or unsociable hours.

The National Pharmacy Association also said that evening and weekend work was “making it difficult to recruit pharmacists”, adding that “there is difficulty employing in remote areas” where long commutes are required.

Evidence submitted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which collated comments from a range of pharmacy multiples and independents, said that the number of pharmacists moving into GP practices and care homes was likely to contribute to shortages in the community pharmacy sector. The evidence also emphasised “the difficulty in recruitment of community pharmacists as the desire to work in the NHS as a hospital pharmacist has increased”.

The RPS response also included evidence attributed to “national community pharmacy multiples”, which said that Brexit had “probably” had a significant impact on the number of applications from non-UK EU citizens.  

Despite this, the MAC said that “on balance, there was insufficient stakeholder evidence” of a pharmacist shortage.

This comes after a General Pharmaceutical Committee report published in June 2017 noted a decrease in the number of pharmacist registrations from the EEA between 2016 and 2017, which it said “potentially reflects the impact of Brexit”.

Meanwhile, in July 2018, Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, published a blog in which he said that “since the decision to leave the EU there has been an 80% drop in applications to work in the UK from EU national pharmacists”. 

But Christopher John, head of workforce, policy and projects at the RPS, said that the responses collated by the Society, taken together with evidence from other national databases and anecdotal evidence, “does not suggest a national shortage that it would be sensible to solve via immigration, but this was a decision for the MAC to make based on our evidence.   

“We do recognise that some coastal and rural areas are struggling to recruit staff across sectors and employers are exploring various options to solve this.” 

The list will now cover around 9% of jobs in the labour market, compared to 1% under the previous list.

As part of the review, the MAC recommended extending the list to consider “medium-skilled” occupations, which it says includes pharmacy technicians.

“While entry requirements for these occupations are somewhat lower than those jobs whose work they support, they can still be highly specialised,” the report said.

“Again, much like the other technician occupations, it would be sensible to look at these types of health and welfare occupations for signs of shortage (if extending the SOL to medium-skilled occupations) given the shortages faced by other similar higher-skilled occupations in the same sectors.”

 

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, June 2019, Vol 302, No 7926;302(7926):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20206617