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What does the NHS workforce plan really mean for pharmacy staffing issues?

The long term workforce plan appears to recognise staffing gaps in the pharmacy sector. But how long will we have to wait until they are bridged, asks Danny Bartlett

The publication of the NHS long term workforce plan last Friday (June 30) suggests there has been a huge push on the training and recruitment of NHS staff. Unfortunately, despite small pockets of text mentioning pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, in my opinion there is much in the plan that remains unclear when it comes to the medium-term evolution and support of the profession.

The plan mentions a goal of raising pharmacist training places from the 3,339 places made available last year to 4,307 by 2028/29. However, it is unclear whether that is going to be solely specific to the degree-route pharmacy schools that currently exist or whether plans to introduce an apprenticeship route will materialise. It briefly refers to a pharmacy technician apprenticeship route, though this isn’t clear or defined.

Read more: ‘A sad day for community pharmacy’: Sector reacts to NHSE workforce plan

Speaking as an academic who currently teaches on the MPharm course, my position is that the quality of pharmacist undergraduate training needs to be maintained if cohort sizes are to grow. With independent prescribing (IP) becoming incorporated into the initial education of pharmacists in line with the new General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) standards, students are having to learn more clinical skills.

They learn the existing skills needed for pharmacists in the traditional sense, but also learn new and important skills around prescribing and autonomous clinical decision-making. If student cohorts grow, this must be costed and reimbursed sustainably, with adequate teaching and quality-assured methods. This will maintain and improve the quality of pharmacists coming through the workforce plan and improve the development of the profession.

The plan also mentions increasing the number of pharmacy technicians, but there is no specific indication of how the government will boost the numbers of this increasingly important profession in our pharmacy teams. From my primary care team’s perspective, we are keen to utilise pharmacy technicians in our primary care network (PCN) in much more patient-facing roles. We are keen to have them conducting medication reviews within protocols and enabling much more clinical autonomy through training alongside our clinical pharmacists, so an increase in numbers can help relieve pressures on the system as well.

Read more: 'The challenges our sectors face should be tackled as a profession'

Finally, the plan mentions that an increase in hub-and-spoke dispensing models in community pharmacies will allow community pharmacists to conduct more clinical services. Although I agree with this direction of travel, I feel that the plan fails to mention the incorporation of these clinical services with other sectors to allow adequate training and resource for community pharmacy colleagues upskilling and being given adequate exposure to clinical skills to utilise their IP course safely and effectively.

Overall, after reading the plan, I have been left feeling slightly underwhelmed by the sparse mention of pharmacy. I feel that with an increase in the training places, there will be increased pressure from IP trainees and the increased capacity needed for designated prescribing practitioners (DPPs) before this is integrated into the foundation year.

As a positive, it is clear the government has realised there is a gap in the number of qualified pharmacists and pharmacy technicians we currently have, so it is good that these numbers will increase, although not for a considerable while.

Danny Bartlett is a lead pharmacist at a PCN in West Sussex and a senior lecturer in medicines use

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