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Recognition of pharmacist shortage welcome as sector loses out to PCNs

AIMp has welcomed the relaxation of rules on recruiting from abroad, as community pharmacy is losing experienced practitioners to “PCN-related activity”, the organisation has said.

Pharmacists have been added to the government’s ‘shortage occupation list’, which sets out which professions qualify for relaxed restrictions on hiring workers from abroad, due to a shortage of resident, skilled applicants. Other professions added to the list include laboratory technicians, senior care workers and nursing assistants.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), hailed the announcement as a “welcome development, as community pharmacy continues to lose experienced pharmacists to primary care network (PCN)-related activity”.

“What is more, this continued drift is happening in an unplanned way that shows no regard for the provision or sustainability of community pharmacies,” she told C+D this morning (March 5).

“It has put severe pressure on the community pharmacy network, leading not only to a loss of local knowledge in our pharmacies, but also in some cases sudden and unplanned closures.”

Foreign healthcare workers “key role”

Announcing the addition of the extra “medical practitioners” – which pharmacists fall under – to the list, minister for future borders and immigration Kevin Foster said many overseas healthcare workers have “played a key role on the frontline of the NHS during the recent pandemic”.

“This latest set of changes, combined with our Health and Care Visa, will ensure they can easily get the immigration status they deserve,” he added.

As part of the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy, those seeking a UK work visa must reach 70 points to be eligible. Being qualified for a job on the shortage occupation list is worth 20 points, which can be combined with 50 points for a job offer from a licensed sponsor, the Home Office website explains.

MAC recommends pharmacist addition

The changes follow a review published by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) last year, which recommended that pharmacists be added to the list.

According to stakeholder evidence, “there is a national shortage in this occupation due to a decline in the number of pharmacy graduates and increasing demand for their services”, the report said.

As part of its recommendations to add pharmacists to the shortage occupation list, the committee said: “We acknowledge that pharmacists have played an important role in addressing the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, this occupation is considered a high-risk occupation in terms of its exposure to disease and proximity to others which makes it particularly vulnerable to the issues COVID-19 poses.

“One of the criteria the MAC uses for inclusion on the [shortage occupation list] focuses on the public value of the occupation. For these reasons, we recommend that pharmacists should be added,” it concluded.

In the lead up to that review, pharmacy bodies told C+D that “unsociable” and “long hours” that go with the job of a pharmacist, plus the push to increase the number of those employed in GP surgeries and PCNs, had contributed to challenges in recruiting pharmacists.

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