Pharmacists employed by primary care networks (PCNs) will have their salaries fully reimbursed as part of an updated GP contract agreement, published on 7 February 2019.
The latest version of the contract, agreed between NHS England, NHS Improvement and the British Medical Association, will also limit the number of structured medication reviews (SMRs) undertaken by PCNs, depending on “the clinical pharmacist capacity of the PCN”.
The GP contract was first announced in January 2019 and required every PCN to employ at least one pharmacist, with PCNs covering a population of more than 100,000 being expected to employ two.
The contract stated that funding for each PCN pharmacist would be capped at £37,810 per year in 2019/2020, which was expected to cover 70% of salary costs. NHS England did not set out funding levels for subsequent years, but it did commit to continuing to cover 70% of costs.
The updated version of the contract sets a target of 26,000 extra support staff, which includes pharmacists, to be employed by PCNs by 2023/2024, with all roles being fully funded by NHS England.
The maximum salary that will be reimbursed for pharmacists employed by PCNs has also been updated, rising to £55,670 from April 2020.
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said the new deal “will hardly feel like good news to community pharmacies”.
“It is encouraging to see the NHS recognising the value of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, but the impact of investment in further roles for them linked to general practice will be negative for community pharmacies,” he said.
“It will create yet more demand for pharmacy staff and raise the cost of labour, a position which seems all the more untenable given the complete refusal of the government and NHS to recognise pharmacies’ costs in delivering their ambitions set out in the community pharmacy contractual framework.”
Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English Pharmacy Board, said that “the additional reimbursement for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians shows how important they will be to helping PCNs deliver better and safer care for patients”, adding that the Society hoped the funding would “encourage PCNs to recruit into these new roles”.
As part of what it claims is a “significantly revised approach” to delivering PCN service specifications, the contract says: “We have clarified explicitly that the volume of SMRs undertaken will be determined and limited by the clinical pharmacist capacity of the PCN.”
Pharmacy bodies, including the RPS and the Primary Care Pharmacy Association previously expressed concern at the volume of SMRs that PCNs would be expected to carry out under previous proposed service specifications, published on 19 December 2019.
In its response to a consultation on the proposals, the RPS described expectations around SMRs as “very ambitious”, and it “strongly recommended that this is reviewed”.
Welcoming the updated contract, Anderson said the NHS should also “consider community pharmacy’s contribution to supporting medicines optimisation and how PCNs can better collaborate across the whole of primary care”.
“PCNs will only be able to move as quickly as the workforce grows and develops, so it’s vital the government invests in education, training and recruitment of pharmacists,” she said.
The updated GP contract also allows PCNs to recruit pharmacy technicians, with one technician per PCN expected to receive funding during 2020/2021 and 2021/2022, or two if the PCN covers an area of more than 100,000 patients. This will be reviewed for 2022/2023.
Liz Fidler, president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, said she was “delighted with the news and keen to ensure that we build the additional workforce capacity to ensure a sustainable pipeline for the future”.
“Pharmacy technicians have the appropriate knowledge and skills to enhance patient care in primary care,” she said.