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Shortfall of 3,000 community pharmacists in England over 5 years, CCA claims

There was a shortfall of 3,000 community pharmacists in England over a five-year period due to a "tug of war" between different parts of the healthcare sector, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has claimed.

The CCA is "aware of discrepancies" in the data used to calculate the community pharmacy workforce in England, it said in a report published last week (February 5).

It is therefore “concerned” that “important policy decisions may be based on inaccurate data”, it said in the report, in which it estimated a community pharmacist deficit of around 3,000.

The "official statistics" show an increase in the number of pharmacists, but “this hides the true picture of a tug-of-war between parts of the NHS and community pharmacy, changing work patterns and the ever-increasing NHS driven workload that pharmacists face”, the CCA argued.

The CCA’s own research indicates that the community pharmacy workforce “is in a fragile state”, it said.

Health Education England (HEE) published its community pharmacy workforce survey data last month, which indicated that the number of pharmacists working in community pharmacy in England has increased since 2017, while the number of vacancies for full-time pharmacist roles has also grown.

C+D has approached the Department of Health and Social Care and HEE for comment.


Community pharmacists recruited into PCNs


As of September 2021, the reported number of full-time pharmacists working for primary care networks (PCNs) stood at 2,626, C+D reported last year.

The CCA calculated that, taking the number of pharmacists recruited from community pharmacy into PCNs into account, more than 6,400 additional community pharmacists were needed between March 2017 and December 2021 to maintain the balance.

“This is around 3,000 more than the estimated number of community pharmacists in England who joined the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register during this period,” it added.

Other factors affecting the community pharmacy workforce that have not yet been accounted for include the “growing numbers of pharmacists not practising”, increased workload because of the COVID-19 pandemic, population growth, “cross border working” and “the impact of broader portfolio working”, the CCA said.

The data published by HEE also “represents a snapshot or a moment in time”, the trade association argued.


Read more: The CCA warned last year 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



Demand exceeding supply


An increase in vacancy rates and rising locum rates, as reported by contractors, mean demand is exceeding supply and increased costs “are exacerbating workforce pressures”, the CCA argued.

A changing approach to working patterns, increasing part-time working, reduced working hours and portfolio working are other factors “exacerbating” pressures, the CCA added.

Between March 2017 and December 2021, the CCA calculated that the number of community pharmacists grew by 3,481, but these changing working practices have meant that an additional 4,099 were needed to maintain "an equilibrium” in pharmacies, it said.


CCA claims "most accurate estimate" of pharmacist workforce


CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison told C+D today (February 8) that the organisation has based its analysis on both the HEE data and figures from the General Pharmaceutical Council, “which we believe provides the most accurate estimate of the state of the pharmacist workforce”.

“Going forward, HEE have stated their intention to collect regular yearly data and we hope this will better inform discussions on the workforce,” he added.

Last year, pharmacists were 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”.

In August, Community Pharmacy Scotland also called for a “temporary stop” to the recruitment of pharmacy professionals to GP and primary care support roles, to prevent a further “workforce drain” in the sector.

However, some locum pharmacists and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association have questioned whether pharmacists should be on the shortage occupation list.


Catch up with C+D’s most recent Big Debate, which asked: Is there a shortage of community pharmacists?


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