Pharmacists working in primary care increase by a quarter in a year

The number of pharmacy technicians working in primary care has also increased, rising by 40.4% between 2022 and 2023.
Waiting room in a British GP practice with patients sitting and standing by reception desk waiting to register

The number of pharmacists working in primary care has increased by almost 25% in a year, data from NHS Digital have shown.

Primary Care Workforce data for England, published by NHS Digital on 15 February 2024, showed that there were 6,874 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists working in general practices and for primary care networks (PCNs) in December 2023. This is up from 5,522 FTE pharmacists in December 2022, a rise of 24.5%.

The number of FTE pharmacy technicians working in general practices and PCNs rose by 40.4%, from 1,633 in December 2022 to 2,292 in December 2023.

The data also show that there was an increase of 16.7% in the number of FTE advanced pharmacist practitioners, from 606 in December 2022 to 707 by December 2023.

In 2022, The Pharmaceutical Journal reported that NHS Digital data, published in July 2022, showed that the number of pharmacists working for PCNS had increased by a third over a one-year period, from 2,552 in June 2021 to 3,294 in June 2022.

Pharmacists are one of several roles for which PCNs can claim funding under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS). Since its introduction in England in 2019, as part of a five-year GP contract, the scheme has proved controversial, with some in the pharmacy sector blaming it for creating a shortage of pharmacists in community pharmacies because of their recruitment into PCNs.

In October 2022, Janet Morrison, chief executive of the then Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (now Community Pharmacy England), called for recruitment of pharmacists into primary care to be stopped.

Commenting on the latest figures, Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “The NHS’ recruitment of pharmacists into GP surgeries and primary care networks continues at pace, apparently without consideration for the impact it has on the hospital and community pharmacy workforce.

 “The workforce crisis in community pharmacy is driven largely by the ARRS.

“The recent ‘NHS Long Term Workforce Plan’ recognised that the expansion of ARRS would be ‘carefully managed’ to account for the additional training of pharmacists. We have yet to see any detail of how this will be undertaken in practice.

“The sector needs action now to address the current shortage of community pharmacists but also to ensure the future workforce is fit for purpose, especially if we are to realise the increasingly clinical future the NHS and government wish to see.”

Graham Stretch, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association, said: “Naturally, I welcome the expansion of the GP/PCN pharmacy workforce ensuring patients have access to pharmacy expertise in all settings.

“Importantly, in the same period, the General Pharmaceutical Council register of pharmacists in England has grown by 1,576, which is more than the growth in GP/PCN numbers.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2024, Vol 312, No 7983;312(7983)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.305965

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