Community pharmacy is “facing the same recruitment and retention crisis” as general practice, the head of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has said.
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said the emerging workforce crisis was the result of fewer students entering pharmacy school and the “osmotic draw” of pharmacists into primary care networks (PCNs).
His comments come after a report compiled by London GP representatives revealed that 7,500 pharmacists would be needed to work in PCNs by 2023/2024.
Speaking to delegates at a Westminster Health Forum event in London on 20 November 2019, Harrison said the profession is “already seeing a shortage of pharmacists to fill posts across the UK,” adding that he can “only expect this challenge to increase in the coming years”.
“We know that the number of applicants to schools of pharmacy has dropped by 25% in the past few years and all schools went through clearing this year to fill their places,” he said.
An analysis by The Pharmaceutical Journal in November 2018 found that 21,104 students applied to study for an MPharm degree in 2016/2017 — the lowest figure in the previous seven years and a 14% drop over that period.
In addition to “the drying up of the tap that feeds the professional pipeline,” Harrison said PCNs are “a new consumer of pharmacy professionals — a disrupter if you like”.
“In the short to medium term, with no increase in the number of pharmacists entering into the profession, we will see an osmotic draw on the community and hospital pharmacy workforces into primary care-based roles,” he said.
He added that this “will only exacerbate the existing challenges by increasing the workload pressures felt within the sector,” and suggested the sector look to offer portfolio careers — “allowing professionals to work across different settings”.
“We are now facing the same recruitment and retention crisis that general practice has faced for several years,” Harrison warned.
Figures from NHS Digital show that as of June 2019, the GP workforce has fallen by 979 GPs since September 2015, which is when Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary, pledged to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020.
Matt Hancock, the current health secretary, later dropped the target date for the government’s GP recruitment commitment.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has since promised to recruit 6,000 GPs if a majority Conservative government is elected on 12 December 2019.
In the same announcement on 19 November 2019, Johnson also promised “6,000 more nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists”. However, an exact breakdown of the number of pharmacists included in this figure has yet to be confirmed.