The Northern Ireland Department of Health (DH) has projected that 566 pharmacists and 600 pharmacy technicians will be needed across community pharmacy, general practice and the hospital sector by 2024.
The pharmacy workforce review, released earlier this week (November 9), looked at the existing pharmacy workforce in Northern Ireland and made a number of recommendations to inform workforce plans over the next decade.
The drive to recruit more pharmacists will be supported by the Pharmacy Futures NI campaign, jointly launched by the DH and the professional pharmacy body Pharmacy Future NI.
The campaign, which started on Monday and runs until early January, aims to promote pharmacy as a “career of choice” to attract more aspiring pharmacists and pharmacy staff to Northern Ireland, Pharmacy Forum NI chair Sheelin McKeagney said.
Challenges in recruiting staff
According to the review, “pharmacy is experiencing challenges in recruitment, putting increased demands on an already pressurised workforce,” compared to other healthcare professions.
“This makes delivery of existing services more challenging and limits the development of new pharmacy services and access to those services,” it said.
In Northern Irish community pharmacy alone, more than 400 pharmacists have left since 2016 for roles in hospital trusts (18%), general practice (44%) and the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain (17%), according to the review.
The report called for additional resources to recruit and retain the necessary workforce in pharmacy and changes to the educational and training system.
Among the recommendations, it said an extra 50 pre-registration places should be created by September 2024 and options should be explored so that this number of additional pharmacy undergraduates can enrol in Northern Irish universities from September 2021.
The report also suggested a change to the initial education and training of pharmacists so that they are prepared to take on “increasing clinical roles in a multi-sector health environment, with closer integration of academic study and learning in practice”.
The report additionally recommended putting in place a compulsory registration and regulation system for pharmacy technicians to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
“Effective and essential part of the health service”
Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland CEO Gerard Greene said: “We welcome the publication of the workforce report and the launch of the Pharmacy Futures NI initiative. We have recognised for some time that we need to focus on recruiting more pharmacists for community pharmacy and we are pleased that there is work now underway to make that happen.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, “community pharmacy has proven to be a very effective and essential part of the wider health service”, Mr Greene said. “The focus on bolstering our workforce is positive news,” he added.
Commenting on the report, health minister Robin Swann said: “Implementing the recommendations contained in the review will ensure that the pharmacy workforce has the necessary capability and capacity to fully support the transformation of our health service in the coming years.”
Last week, Mr Swann praised pharmacy teams for their ability to adapt “remarkably well to what where fast-changing circumstances” during the COVID-19 crisis.