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Revealed: The areas where it's hardest to fill pharmacist vacancies

NHS England’s 2022 community pharmacy workforce survey has found high rates of pharmacist vacancies across the country. Find out which areas fared best and worst.

Community pharmacies across England are experiencing very high vacancy rates, at an average of 16% across integrated care systems (ICSs), new data has revealed.


The figure was revealed by the findings of the 2022 community pharmacy workforce survey – a snapshot of the sector’s workforce in the autumn – published by NHS England (NHSE) last week (August 3).


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


The data showed that community pharmacy contractors found it “very difficult” to fill pharmacist roles last year, with nearly two-thirds of contractors saying this was the case.


C+D's analysis of reported vacancies across ICSs can reveal the areas that came out top and bottom.



Third of posts vacant in worst-hit area



While the average pharmacist vacancy rate was 16% across the country, vacancy rates by area varied from 32% to 11%.


Somerset ICS reported the highest vacancy rate for pharmacist positions, with almost a third (32%) of roles unfilled, according to C+D’s calculations.


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


Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICS reported the second highest vacancy rate, with 25% of roles unfilled, while Suffolk and North East Essex ICS was the third most affected, with a pharmacist vacancy rate of 23%.


Meanwhile, Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICS had the lowest vacancy rate for pharmacist roles at 11%, followed by West Yorkshire and Harrogate ICS (also 11%) and Coventry and Warwickshire ICS (12%).



“Not comparable” with 2021 data



The vacancy rates reported by the 2022 community pharmacy workforce survey are significantly higher than those recorded the previous year.


For instance, Somerset ICS reported a vacancy rate for pharmacists of just 10% in 2021, compared with 32% the following year.


Suffolk and North East Essex ICS had the highest pharmacist vacancy rate at 16% in 2021, while the average for the year was 6%.


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


However, NHSE stressed that the data are “not directly comparable”, as the methodology used in the 2021 survey needed “adjustment for the lower return rate”.


The 2022 workforce survey received responses from over 95% of community pharmacies and was compulsory, while the 2021 survey was voluntary and had a response rate of just 47%, NHSE said.


Read more: NHSE announces 29% increase in pharmacist training places by 2028/29


The vacancy rate for full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists was calculated as vacancies per the number of positions available at each establishment – ie the number of vacancies as a share of the sum of FTE pharmacists in post and vacancies.


Vacancies were defined as “only those posts that are long standing”, meaning without anyone appointed after more than three months, NHSE said.



Growing concerns



It comes as concerns about the community pharmacy workforce have been growing over the course of the year.


In June, NHSE published its long term NHS workforce plan, which envisioned a 29% increase in pharmacist training places by 2028/2029.


Read more: ‘Bleak outlook’: PSNC survey highlights temporary closures and staff shortages


Meanwhile, community pharmacy representative organisations have continued to call for an end to pharmacist recruitment into the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS), most recently Community Pharmacy England (CPE).


In April, C+D reported the findings of a CPE survey (then the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee) that indicated that 71% of pharmacy businesses were experiencing shortages of pharmacists and 73% were experiencing shortages of other staff.

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