Pharmacy workforce group aims to quadruple number of trainees in Somerset by 2026

Exclusive: According to NHS England data, Somerset has the highest vacancy rate for community pharmacist roles, with almost a third of vacancies unfilled.
Pharmacy in Dulverton, West Somerset

A local pharmacy workforce group is aiming to quadruple the number of pharmacy trainees coming to work in Somerset by 2026, the local pharmaceutical committee has said.

Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 16 August 2023, Michael Lennox, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Somerset, said the aim to increase the number of trainees locally was in response to “a recruitment crisis” facing all pharmacy sectors in the county.

NHS England’s 2022 ‘Community pharmacy workforce survey’, published on 3 August 2023, showed that, across integrated care systems, Somerset had the highest vacancy rate for community pharmacist roles in the country, with almost a third (32%) of the 237 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions unfilled.

Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire had the second highest vacancy rate, with 25% of FTE positions unfilled. 

The survey also showed that Somerset had five FTE foundation pharmacists in post, one of the lowest numbers of trainees in post in England.

“We didn’t need the survey to tell us we had a recruitment crisis in Somerset but once you know you’ve got a problem you do something about it, because if we don’t have a workforce we can’t do anything,” said Lennox, adding that recruitment into primary care had caused some shortages in community pharmacy.

“In Somerset, we have other contributing causes — we don’t have a school of pharmacy, we don’t have a city, we are not a lifestyle relocation point, and even getting locums is a challenge. And it’s not just community pharmacy that has recruitment issues — it’s the PCNs, GPs and hospitals, and we need to challenge the issue collectively,” he added. 

To support the intention to increase the number of pharmacist trainees, Somerset received funding from NHS England’s Workforce, Training and Education Directorate, formerly Health Education England (HEE), to set up a system-wide Pharmacy Workforce Project Group in February 2022.

Lennox, who leads the group on behalf of pharmacy staff in hospitals, primary care networks, GP practices and community pharmacies, said the funding has allowed the project group to employ a workforce expert for “a couple of days a month to work on how to drive-up recruitment for trainee positions … and we have just found out this funding is likely to continue”. 

When asked how much funding was received, Lennox declined to answer.

“You can’t simply will yourself into having more trainees — you’ve got to think it through and come up with a plan,” he said, adding that the recruitment work aims to “coalesce action for collective good across the whole of pharmacy and quadruple the number of trainees coming into the county by 2025/2026 placements”. 

“The only way we can fix these problems here in the longer term is by having more people wanting to study pharmacy, going to university, and coming back to their home county of Somerset to work — and this takes leadership, patience, and the will to continue,” said Lennox. 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2023, Vol 311, No 7976;311(7976)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.194860

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