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Number of GP pharmacists rockets: A ‘slap in the face’ or a warning to employers?

GP pharmacist numbers have tripled in just two years, according to new data. Should community pharmacy be worried, and what can be done to stem the tide of pharmacy professionals leaving for pastures new?

The number of pharmacists working in general practice in England has shot up under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) since it was introduced in 2019, a new report has found.

There was a staggering 277% rise in the number of GP pharmacists between 2019 and 2021, according to a report by charity the Health Foundation. While only 645 pharmacists joined GP practices between 2017 and 2019, this number rose from 1,241 to 4,684 under the ARRS, the data showed.

Pharmacy technicians also flocked to general practice after being added to the ARRS – which sees the NHS fully reimbursing GPs for cost of employing certain members of staff  ­– in April 2020. The number of GP-employed pharmacy technicians skyrocketed between 2019 and 2021, from to 71 to 989.

It follows an ongoing debate about whether workforce problems in community pharmacy can be attributed a shortage of pharmacists in the UK, or whether poor working conditions in many pharmacies are prompting staff to look for employment elsewhere.

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

As more pharmacy professionals seem attracted to the prospect of working in general practice, C+D asked pharmacy body representatives whether this posed a threat to the community pharmacy sector.


AIMp: Lack of investment a “slap in the face"


The NHS set a target of recruiting 26,000 patient care staff – including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians ­– into general practice roles in England by 2023/24 when it introduced the ARRS.

Chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp), Leyla Hannbeck, was therefore unsurprised to see the number of GP pharmacists triple over two years.

Read more: Public sector pay rises a ‘slap in the face’ for ‘neglected’ pharmacy teams

She believes the fact that so many pharmacists have chosen to join general practice makes it plain that community pharmacy finds itself on an uneven playing field, she told C+D.

While GP practices receive money to recruit pharmacists, community pharmacy receives no such funding to bolster its recruitment, she pointed out.

But this could pose problems, she warned. Community pharmacy needs a certain number of staff to help it relieve the pressure on “overstretched A&Es and GP surgeries” and as the sector “embarks on a big vaccination programme” over the autumn and winter, she continued.

As a result, the lack of “support and investment [from] decision makers is a slap in the face for this hard-working sector that contributes so much to the NHS”, Dr Hannbeck stressed.

AIMp continues to raise these concerns with NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, she said.


PDA: Working conditions more important than numbers


However, Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) Union director Paul Day said the rising number of GP pharmacists should not be “a matter for concern for community pharmacy, because the register itself has grown sufficiently to resource new jobs in [both] sectors”.

It is instead up to employers to think about the number of pharmacy professionals who are “prepared to work in the environments found in community pharmacy for the rewards available”, he stressed.

Read more: ‘No one’s taking responsibility’: PDA pens open letter on temporary closures

While the union “constantly” asks employers to improve working conditions and pay by pushing for “transparent pay systems” and zero tolerance policies for violence against staff, some of them fail “to meet those tasks”, he claimed.

Some employers also “unnecessarily” temporarily close pharmacy branches, he claimed.

“Why would any healthcare professional choose to work for employers that behave in those ways,” Mr Day asked.

Jobs in primary care “represent a career option for pharmacists, and all career options and the opportunities for professional growth need to be celebrated if future entrants to the profession are to be encouraged”, he concluded.


NPA: ARRS should include community pharmacy


The National Pharmacy Association’s vice chair, Nick Kaye, called for NHS England’s investment in into ARRS to include community pharmacies.

Pharmacies “can cater for many more patients, more conveniently without appointment” than GP practices can, he said.

Read more: Workforce planning must recognise pharmacy's place in the NHS family

ARRS “only makes sense if it is adding capacity to the primary care system, not stripping capacity from other community and secondary care settings”, he stressed.

He also called for “a local assessment” to be made for each recruitment of an ARRS role to “measure the impact this will have on other parts of the health system including community pharmacy and not just the NHSE managed sector”.



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