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Number of full-time equivalent pharmacists working in PCNs tops 2,500

The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists reported to be working for a primary care network (PCN) in England stood at 2,626 as of the end of September, according to experimental data from NHS Digital.

Data released today (November 18) by NHS Digital on the PCN workforce also revealed that there were 562 pharmacy technicians working for PCNs as of September 30.

There were 15% more reported FTE PCN pharmacists at that point in the year compared with the 2,275 reported in June 2021. The number of PCN pharmacy technicians also rose by 15% on the 489 reported in June.

However, NHS Digital cautioned against comparing the figures between different periods, because “a greater proportion of active PCNs” are beginning to engage in sharing their workforce data, it said.

This means that staff who were already working in their current roles when NHS Digital previously collected PCN workforce data may only have been recorded for the first time in the most recent round of data collection, it explained.

However, the organisation has noticed a “larger than usual increase in FTE" in the contracted services data reported in the September release, it said.

“It is possible that this is in part due to PCNs leaving hours information untouched within records for services they have not used, rather than setting them to zero,” it suggested.

NHS Digital explained that guidance “has since been issued directly to PCNs” to explain this process and “it is expected that this will result in more accurate contracted services information being submitted for the December 2021 collection”. 


348 PCNs did not employ or did not record FTE pharmacist data


According to the data, there were 1,255 active PCNs as of the end of September.

Of these, 348 PCNs had either not employed or had not recorded employing an FTE PCN pharmacist by the end of September.

Meanwhile, 407 PCNs said they had employed at least one FTE pharmacy technician by this time.

Most staff employed by PCNs are funded through the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS). Last year, the scheme was broadened to include PCN pharmacy technicians, for whom networks can claim a maximum annual reimbursement rate of £35,389.

“The PCN contract is a Directed Enhanced Service and aims to increase the primary care workforce by 26,000 by 2024,” NHS Digital said.


Regions with the highest number of reported PCN pharmacy workers


The Midlands was the region with the highest number of recorded FTE PCN pharmacists by the end of September, at 622, according to the NHS Digital data set. It also recorded 130 pharmacy technicians.

It was followed by London, with 479 recorded FTE pharmacists, and the North East and Yorkshire, which recorded 412 FTE pharmacists.

However, PCNs in London only recorded employing 32 pharmacy technicians, compared to the 117 recorded in the North East and Yorkshire.

The South West had the lowest number of recorded FTE pharmacists, at 205. 


Workforce crisis affecting primary care


Earlier this month, the government pledged to invest up to £15.9 million over the next four years into a programme to “enhance” pharmacists’ and pharmacy technicians’ skills.

Following the announcement, NHS England and NHS Improvement deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Richard Cattell said that this investment will help pharmacists and pharmacy technicians better integrate “into wider healthcare delivery as part of multi-professional clinical teams in PCNs”.

However, on Tuesday (November 16), the Company Chemists’ Association warned that further temporary and permanent closures of community pharmacies will “be unavoidable” if the government does not take action to resolve the pharmacist workforce crisis affecting primary care.

The “continued recruitment drive” of pharmacists into PCNs has “begun to bite in community pharmacies”, it cautioned.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, pharmacists were also added to the government’s shortage occupation list. This decision was welcomed by the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, which at the time told C+D that “community pharmacy continues to lose experienced pharmacists to PCN-related activity”.


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