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GP pharmacist push blamed for shortfall of 320 in community

The push to recruit more pharmacists to GP surgeries has resulted in a “catastrophic” shortfall of 320 community pharmacists in Northern Ireland, CPNI has claimed.

“Hundreds” of community pharmacists in Northern Ireland fear that the current workforce crisis in community pharmacy will lead to services becoming unsafe, a survey from Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) has revealed.

A total of 409 of the 532 community pharmacies in Northern Ireland responded to CPNI’s survey, which ran from May-June this year.

It revealed that an estimated 398 pharmacists left the sector in the past two years, resulting in a “deficit of 320 pharmacists to provide safe services to patients”.

General practice was the most common sector pharmacists leaving “the beleaguered community pharmacy network” joined, because of the “attractive salaries and benefits packages on offer”, the negotiator said.

“Main precipitating factor”

Northern Ireland's practice-based pharmacist scheme – which launched in 2015 and aims to recruit 294 pharmacists to GP surgeries by 2020-21 – is the “main precipitating factor for a catastrophic community pharmacy workforce crisis”, CPNI claimed.

However, the Northern Ireland Department of Health (DH) told C+D that the staffing issues are more likely due to a past “lack of transformation of the way [pharmacy] services are delivered” (see more of the DH’s response below).

CPNI chief executive Gerard Greene said he is “shocked” that the DH has allocated £2.19 million to continue the rollout of the practice-base pharmacist scheme in 2019-20.

“We have asked that it should be deferred until the community pharmacy workforce crisis is resolved,” he said.

Community pharmacy is facing “the most severe and critical period ever” and the DH must commit “proper funding and resources” to “stabilise the sector”, Mr Greene stressed.

DH: GP pharmacist scheme “a success”

The DH told C+D that it is “surprised and disappointed” by the comments from CPNI, “given that their representatives have been fully involved in the DH’s pharmacy workforce strategy”.

“The practice-based pharmacist scheme is a notable success in terms of the transformation and improvement of services,” it stressed.

CPNI’s recommendation of stopping the recruitment of any more practice-based pharmacists “curtails transformation” and “is not the answer to staffing issues” in community pharmacy, it added.

“It makes no sense to…halt or reverse service improvements in other areas,” the DH stressed.

Pharmacists’ expertise and skills are in “high demand in all sectors across Northern Ireland”, and the DH is “doing its best” to allocate limited funding in the best way possible, it added.

CPNI has previously warned that the “sustained funding reductions” could trigger a “snowball” of pharmacy closures, and cause pharmacies to withdraw some services.

What did CPNI’s survey reveal about the Northern Ireland workforce “crisis”?

  • 94% of respondents had difficulties sourcing locums
  • 93% raised locum fees and pharmacists’ salaries “in an attempt to compete”
  • 70% of contractors have been unable to fill advertised job roles
  • 47% of independents and small chains, and 31% of multiples had to reduce staff
  • 95% of pharmacy owners have increased their own working hours, with some reporting “regularly working up to 80-100 hours per week”
  • 90% of contractors are either “very” or “extremely” worried about their future workforce

Source: CPNI community pharmacy workforce survey, September 2019

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