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Almost 3,000 full-time equivalent pharmacists work in PCNs, data reveals

The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists reported to be working for a primary care network (PCN) in England stood at 2,923 as of the end of December 2021, according to experimental data from NHS Digital.

PCN workforce data released by NHS Digital today (February 17) also revealed that there were 682 FTE pharmacy technicians working for PCNs as of December 31.

There were 11% more reported FTE PCN pharmacists at that point in the year compared with the 2,626 reported as of September 2021. The number of PCN pharmacy technicians also rose by 21% on the 562 reported in September.

However, NHS Digital cautioned against comparing figures between different periods, because the PCN workforce data is “still a relatively new collection and the completeness and coverage of the data are still improving”, it said.

“We continue to work with PCNs and other stakeholders to improve the data quality,” it added.

NHS Digital noted that at 2,923, FTE pharmacist is “the most common job role within the PCN workforce”.

It has noticed “a continuing increase in FTE [roles] at a greater rate than it was seen prior to June 2021”, NHS Digital noted. “For this release, it should be noted that all September 2021 and December 2021 FTE figures relating to direct patient care job roles may be inflated as a result of this issue.”

The organisation suggested: “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.”

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 future collections,” NHS Digital explained.


304 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 December.

Of these, 304 PCNs had either not employed or had not recorded employing an FTE PCN pharmacist by the end of December. This is a reduction of almost 13% on the 348 PCNs who had not employed or recorded employing at least one FTE PCN pharmacist by the end of September – at which time, NHS Digital had reported there were also 1,255 active PCNs. 

Meanwhile, 453 PCNs said they had employed at least one FTE pharmacy technician by this time, an increase of 11% on the 407 PCNs recorded in September.

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.


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 December, at 696, according to the NHS Digital data set. It also recorded 153 FTE pharmacy technicians.

It was followed by London, with 528 recorded FTE pharmacists, and the North East and Yorkshire, which recorded 451 FTE pharmacists.

However, PCNs in London only recorded employing 39 FTE pharmacy technicians, compared to the 139 recorded in the North East and Yorkshire.

The South West had the lowest number of recorded FTE pharmacists, at 255, but the third highest number of recorded FTE pharmacy technicians at 109, behind the Midlands and the North East and Yorkshire.


Community pharmacy workforce crisis


Earlier this month, the Company Chemists’ Association calculated that 6,400 additional community pharmacists were needed between March 2017 and December 2021, to maintain the balance of pharmacists who were being recruited from community pharmacy into PCNs.

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

Pharmacists were added to the government’s shortage occupation list in March last year. 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 Big Debate, which asked: Is there a shortage of community pharmacists?


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