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‘Unfair advantage’: PCNs see increase in reimbursable pay for pharmacists

Pharmacy bodies have criticised a PCN recruitment scheme and the impact it has on the community pharmacy sector, following an uplift in the maximum reimbursement rates for ‘clinical’ pharmacists. 

‘Clinical’ pharmacists’ employment costs and salary are fully reimbursed to primary care networks (PCNs) under the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS).

In a letter sent to PCNs last month (September 26), NHS England (NHSE) announced that the ARRS maximum reimbursement rates for 2022/23 would increase to match the agreed uplift to Agenda for Change pay scales.

But the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) and Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) have warned C+D that ARRS gives PCNs an unfair advantage.

Read more: PSNC CEO: Government must stop recruiting ‘clinical’ pharmacists into PCNs

Under the new pay scales, the annual maximum reimbursable amount for ‘clinical’ pharmacists stands at £59,312 as of October 1, an increase on the £57,318 made reimbursable from April 2022.

The reimbursement rates are slightly higher for those working in high-cost areas, rising to £68,768 for those working in inner high-cost areas, according to the PCN contract.

However, the maximum reimbursement amounts do include the associated employer on-costs comprising NHS pension costs of 14.38% and employers’ national insurance, up to 13.8% of earnings above the threshold, which must be deducted.  


“It makes no sense whatsoever to subsidise these roles”


NPA director of corporate affairs Gareth Jones told C+D that “it makes no sense whatsoever to subsidise these roles while stripping community pharmacies of resources”.

He also pointed to the NPA’s recently commissioned report on inflationary pressures published last month, which revealed that the community pharmacy sector is now receiving 24% less in real-terms NHS funding than in 2015.

“General practice and PCNs have not been subject to these same cost pressures and have an unfair advantage as employers when looking to attract staff,” he added.

Read more: Pharmacist workforce issues drive employment solutions, says NHSE&I boss

“The NPA has called for local NHS managers to be required to conduct an impact assessment prior to any further recruitment into GP or PCN sites under the ARRS programme,” he added.

AIMp CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D that while it is “hard to judge these salaries” without the pharmacist role specification, “what is clear here though is the lack of level playing field for community pharmacies, in that PCNs are getting funding from the NHS to recruit workforce while community pharmacy does not”.

According to the most recent NHS PCN workforce figures, there were 3,284 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists working for PCNs as of June.


CCA: Pharmacy is under “immense pressure”


Meanwhile, CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison told C+D that “all community pharmacies are feeling the seismic impact of the recruitment of pharmacists into PCNs”. 

ARRS “is impacting community pharmacy as much as the devastating cuts in 2016”, he added.

The salary entitlement increase “is not surprising, given the cost-of-living pressures facing the whole country", he noted.

But the government must also “recognise the immense pressure on community pharmacy businesses, and immediately increase the level of funding available to the sector”, Mr Harrison said.

Read more: DH keeping an eye on temporary pharmacy closures, it confirms

The CCA is calling on NHSE to “work with us and the rest of the sector to understand what the pharmaceutical care needs of the whole of primary care are, and to build a workforce plan that it in the best interests of patients, the taxpayer and the healthcare system”, he told C+D.

Earlier this month, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee CEO Janet Morrison, warned delegates at a Sigma conference that the financially incentivised recruitment of pharmacists into PCN roles is “absolutely shooting community pharmacy in the foot”.

GP practices should be working with community pharmacies, rather than “recruiting their staff away from them”, Ms Morrison added.

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