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Two-thirds of contractors say it's ‘very difficult’ to fill pharmacist roles

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of community pharmacist contractors in England have found it “very difficult” to fill pharmacist vacancies, according to data from the 2022 community pharmacy workforce survey.

The new survey, published by NHS England (NHSE) yesterday (August 3), revealed that an average of 65% of community pharmacies across local integrated care systems (ICS) said it had been “very difficult” to recruit pharmacists.


But there was a significant variation between ICSs, with the proportion of those saying it had been “very difficult” ranging from 89% to 46%, according to C+D’s calculations.


Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly ICS was the area that reported the most difficulty filling pharmacist roles, with nearly nine in 10 (89%) of community pharmacies saying it was “very difficult”.


Read more: UPDATED: Locums used more but ‘working fewer hours’, workforce survey reveals


This was closely followed by Somerset ICS (88%) and Gloucestershire ICS (85%) as the regions facing the greatest difficulty filling pharmacist roles.


However, Greater Manchester ICS and North West London ICS had the lowest share of community pharmacies reporting that it was “very difficult” to fill pharmacist roles at 46% each. 




“Very difficult” was nevertheless the most common answer to the question of how easy it was to fill pharmacist roles across ICSs.


On average, aside from the 65% who found it “very difficult”, 14% of respondents found it “fairly difficult”, with 6% finding it neither easy nor difficult and 4% either finding it fairly or very easy.




Pharmacy technicians


The pattern of responses was similar when community pharmacy contractors were asked about filling pharmacy technician roles.


Across ICSs, an average of 44% of contractors found it “very difficult” to fill pharmacist technician roles, with the “not applicable” the next most popular average choice at 18%.


Again, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s ICS reported the largest share of community pharmacies finding it “very difficult” to fill pharmacy technician roles, at 75%. 


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


Herefordshire and Worcestershire ICS and Hampshire and the Isle of Wight ICS both reported that 66% of contractors found filling these roles “very difficult”.


Meanwhile, South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw ICS had the lowest share of contractors reporting that it was “very difficult” to fill pharmacy technician roles, at 17%.


But this did not mean roles were easily filled – “not applicable” was the most popular response for the area, accounting for 50% of the total. “Very easy” and “fairly easy” together accounted for 4%.




“Out of date”


From 2022, the workforce survey was compulsory for every community pharmacy to participate in and more than 95% of contractors responded, with 87% of the data “useable”, NHSE said.


This is a “huge increase” from 2021, which had a 47% response rate on a voluntary survey, it added.


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


In a statement released yesterday (August 3), Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison warned that there is a risk that the survey is “already out of date”, with data collected “10 months ago”.

Mr Harrison said that since the survey was run, “the situation in community pharmacy has continued to develop”, adding that forthcoming surveys would need to be published quicker if they were to be useful to decision-makers.


Read more: 'Pharmacy wastelands’: Over 200 net closures in 2023 so far, DH admits


In an accompanying explainer to the survey, NHSE said that the “delay” in publication was due to “the volume of data” from the “increased return rate”. 


An NHSE spokesperson stressed that the 2022 data is still playing an important role in informing investment decisions and workforce planning and told C+D that next year’s survey will be informed by learning from the 2022 process.


Meanwhile, the findings published yesterday also revealed that locum pharmacists were being relied on more in 2022 than the previous year but “working fewer hours on average”.

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