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‘NHSE&I must consider what impact career competition is having on pharmacy’

Pharmacy’s priorities should be patient care and creating professional development pathways – not career competition, says Rowlands’ Nigel Swift 

Pharmacists are among the most qualified people working in our national health service. They provide patients with essential and often critical care in so many different ways – from illness prevention, to managing chronic conditions.

Pharmacists want and deserve career paths that allow them to fulfil their personal vocational goals and gain valuable, exciting, and varied experience in community, primary and secondary settings. One career path for life will be right for some, but not others. This will be more achievable once independent prescribing becomes the norm, and the training, service commissioning and funding are there to make it a reality for all pharmacists.

In that context, as reported by C+D, the recent King’s Fund report commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) concerning primary care network (PCN) recruitment makes for essential reading.


PCN pharmacists not always more satisfied


Put simply, almost 3,000 pharmacists have chosen to work in a PCN role rather than in community pharmacy. Pharmacists opting for PCN roles have said they chose to do so for reduced working hours, more autonomy and an opportunity to make more clinical interventions.

So far, so good, but what the King’s Fund also found is significant levels of job dissatisfaction. A few highlights from the report:

There was a strong sense that pharmacists were not being given tasks appropriate to their competencies. Many felt that GPs underappreciated their abilities or wanted them to focus on ‘tick-box’ tasks and medication reviews.


Read more: Underappreciated and lonely: the other side of the PCN pharmacist role


This misunderstanding and underappreciation of pharmacists’ skills was also compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists spoke of having non-role-specific tasks thrust upon them on arrival to a PCN. “This meant that while their work was valued, it was not the work that they were hired to do,” the think tank said.

“One of the strongest themes that emerged from our work was one of isolation and loneliness, which came from being spread across multiple teams,” the King’s Fund said.

One pharmacist talked of resigning from their PCN role after being told any training they undertook would have to be taken as unpaid overtime. The King’s Fund found this was a common theme across PCNs.

Of course, this is the experience of a select sample of pharmacists, and many others will be thriving in and enjoying their PCN roles.

But, as NHS funding for PCN roles in 2023/24 is yet to be decided, now seems to be the perfect time to step back and reassess the impact the push for more pharmacists to join PCNs is having on the wider industry…


“We’re calling on NHSE&I to act now”


We at Rowlands are calling on NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to undertake a pharmacy workforce capacity review across community, primary and secondary care. Then, investment in career pathways and training support must follow to enable pharmacists to develop their careers across all sectors.

Currently, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul and that adds nothing to patient care or career satisfaction for pharmacists, nor does it attract new recruits into our universities to become the next generation of pharmacists.

Before recruitment to PCNs goes any further, we suggest that NHSE&I pauses and assesses the impact this is having on community pharmacy, before it is too late.

Nigel Swift is managing director of Rowlands Pharmacy


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