Between November 2016 and October 2018 the number of European Economic Area (EEA) pharmacists registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) dropped by 333 – from 3,652 to 3,319.
The peak in November 2016 marked an end to an upward trend that began around January 2011, when there were 2,347 EEA pharmacists.
The number has now returned to its February 2016 level, and looks set to drop further.
The GPhC said it “cannot say with any certainty what could be causing this small drop”.
“There could be a whole range of factors at play in this complex issue including Brexit, changes to language requirements, employment prospects in Great Britain, as well as events in EEA pharmacists' home countries,” it told C+D.
“We do not have a role in workforce planning, but others who do are able to use our registration statistics to do so,” the GPhC said.
The number of EEA pharmacists registering in Great Britain for the first time was 24 between April and June this year – 85% less than the 160 who joined the register between October and December 2016.
The drop in EEA pharmacists means this group now makes up 6% of the total number of pharmacists on the register, compared with 7% in November 2016.
CCA chief warns of potential shortages
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association – which represents Boots, Lloydspharmacy, Well, Rowlands and Superdrug – wrote in a blog in July that the combination of the fall in EEA pharmacist registrations and fewer UK students studying pharmacy could ultimately lead to a nationwide shortage.
The number of people studying pharmacy at university has fallen 4.5% since 2013-14, from 14,599 to 13,940 in 2016-17, according to the GPhC.
“Unless something changes, the shortage of pharmacists will become more of a problem”, Mr Harrison wrote.
Explanding on his concerns to C+D this month, Mr Harrison said that in areas where it is difficult to recruit pharmacists “we could see a situation where pharmacies are not able to provide pharmaceutical care for patients”.
“Our members are working to address those issues,” he added.
Read how European community pharmacists in the UK have been affected by Brexit here.