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ARRS recruitment must ‘immediately halt’ now target reached, warns CCA

Pharmacy leaders have reacted to the news that the government has hired 26,000 additional staff into primary care, saying it must now “immediately halt” its pharmacist recruitment drive into GP practices.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) on Thursday (May 18) announced that it has met its target to recruit 26,000 additional primary care staff, including pharmacists, into GP practices by March 2024 a year early.


The 2019 manifesto commitment was backed by the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS), which recruits pharmacists and other staff such as paramedics and physiotherapists into primary care networks (PCNs).


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


The controversial scheme has been the subject of stern criticism from members of the community pharmacy sector, while NHS England (NHSE) revealed earlier this month that it will “review and evaluate” its future.



Almost 11,000 pharmacy staff



Data published last week by NHSE revealed that there were 29,103 more full-time equivalent (FTE) “direct patient care staff” working in primary care as of March 31 compared to the same date in 2019. 


It said that as of March, there were 10,784 FTE pharmacy workers in GP practices and PCNs, including pharmacists (6,089), pharmacy technicians (1,859), advanced pharmacist practitioners (628) and dispensers (2,208).


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that it is “fantastic news” that the government has achieved its target “almost one year earlier than planned”.



“Corrosive” scheme must stop



But the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) called for an “immediate stop to further recruitment of pharmacists into GP surgeries”.


CCA chief executive Malcolm Harrison said that while the announcement is “undoubtedly good news for GPs, it is creating significant problems for the rest of the NHS”.


“Despite our continued warnings of a workforce crisis in pharmacy, this short-sighted recruitment drive continues at pace,” he added, saying that it is “clear that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”.


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

Mr Harrison warned that the government and NHSE “must immediately halt further recruitment of pharmacists into GP surgeries” if they want pharmacies to “take on more workload to help recover access to primary care”.


“With their target now met, the corrosive impact of the ARRS scheme on community pharmacy must be stopped,” he said.



“Not celebrating”



And the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that it “unfortunately…isn’t celebrating [the 26,000] milestone because of the drain the ARRS has created on the community pharmacy workforce”.


NPA chair Nick Kaye said that the scheme has the “unintended consequence of stripping away patient-facing professionals from community pharmacies”.


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

This makes pharmaceutical care “less rather than more accessible overall”, he added.


And he said that recruitment into ARRS roles should not be “considered in isolation as a matter for GP practices only”, suggesting that ARRS roles be considered for the community pharmacy setting too.


“Workforce plans should take into account the whole of primary care, including community pharmacy” so that investment in staff could be “much more productive”, he added.



NHSE committed to ARRS review



A spokesperson for the DH stressed that the department and NHSE continue to monitor the impact of recruitment of clinical pharmacists to general practice.


They added that NHSE is committed to reviewing the ARRS ahead of 2024/2025.


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

The spokesperson also pointed to this month’s announcement of a investment of up to £645 million into community pharmacy over two years, part of which will help to support staffing, as well as to the current five-year funding deal.


They said that there remains good access to NHS pharmaceutical services in England, with 80% of the population within 20 minutes walking distance of their nearest pharmacy. 



A controversial scheme



An independent government-commissioned review of integrated care systems (ICSs), 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.

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

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

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

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

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