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NHSE reveals it will ‘review’ future of ARRS PCN recruitment

NHS England (NHSE) will “review and evaluate” the future of the controversial additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS), it has revealed.

The scheme, which recruits pharmacists into primary care networks (PCNs), has been the subject of stern criticism from members of the community pharmacy sector.

But NHSE’s new primary care recovery plan, published yesterday (May 9), signalled that a possible change to the recruitment scheme could be on the cards.

Read more: PCNs: Golden opportunity or just a pain in the ARRS for community pharmacy?

Any decision made about the future of the ARRS would apply from 2024/25 onwards, when the current five-year GP contract that introduced PCNs ends and its successor begins, according to the plan.

The review and evaluation of the ARRS forms part of a wider review of PCNs, which were first introduced in 2019, to take place ahead of the 2024/25 GP contract discussions, it added.

Read more: Pharmacy closures 'exacerbated' by PCN recruitment, warns government review

The plan said that the “2024/25 contract provides an opportunity, after the 2019 five-year framework ends… to reflect on successes and lessons learned”.

NHSE “will review and evaluate the ARRS as part of this work and to inform future options that could apply from 2024/25 onwards”, it added.

 

A controversial scheme

 

It comes as an independent government-commissioned review of integrated care systems, published last month, found that the shortage of pharmacists and community pharmacy closures had been exacerbated by the ARRS recruitment of pharmacists into PCNs.

By December, 3,880 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists were working in PCNs, a 13% rise from September 2022.

Read more: ‘Short-sighted at best’: PSNC blasts recruitment of 4k PCN pharmacists

At the time, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that these shortages had forced pharmacies “to close their doors temporarily to patients”.

It followed previous calls from the negotiator for the government to stop recruiting pharmacists into PCNs and general practices.

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

Industry bodies have also raised concerns that the scheme offered an “unfair advantage” to PCNs, as their salaries and costs were fully reimbursed to PCNs by NHSE.

And the community pharmacy sector is not alone in its antipathy towards PCNs - in June last year, members of the British Medical Association, the UK’s trade union and professional body for doctors and medical students, voted to organise the withdrawal of general practices from PCNs by 2023.

 

Recovery plan

 

Meanwhile, the primary care recovery plan also yesterday announced a community pharmacy funding injection of “up to £645 million” over two years to “expand” services.

It said that the cash will fund a new Pharmacy First service for England as well as expansions to the existing pharmacy oral contraceptive and blood pressure programmes – “subject to consultation” and negotiations.

Pharmacy leaders cautiously welcomed the plans but stressed that detail remains scant.

Check the C+D site for the latest coverage on this developing story

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