National pharmacist shortfall of 3,000 pharmacists poses significant risk to pharmacies

  • Over the last 5 years an alarming shortfall of over 3,000 community pharmacists has developed in England.1
  • Pharmacies are struggling to recruit staff. Vacancy rates for community pharmacists have more than doubled since 2017.1
  • The Health Secretary’s plans to channel patients from GPs to pharmacists through services such as walk-in consultations and blood pressure monitoring are doomed to fail if the crisis goes unaddressed.
  • Government and NHS E/I needs a holistic primary care strategy or patients will face increased waiting times for both pharmacists and GPs, and risk worsening the backlog within primary care further.

The Company Chemists’ Association has uncovered a worrying shortfall of over 3,000 community pharmacists in England which has developed over the last 5 years1. Legal requirements mean there must be a pharmacist in every pharmacy to allow any pharmaceutical care, including supplying prescription medications. If a pharmacy cannot source a pharmacist the pharmacy site will be forced to close. We estimate there have been almost 1,700 temporary closures caused by this shortfall last November alone. Closed pharmacies will mean patients will go to GP practices and A&E departments, adding further pressure to these sectors.

The Health Secretary has recently voiced plans for NHS E/I to adopt Scotland’s ‘Pharmacy First’ model where pharmacy will be the first port of call for minor ailments and illnesses, which would help free up capacity for GPs. Some of the services pharmacists can provide include the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, where GPs can refer patients to pharmacists for minor illnesses or an urgent supply of medicine from NHS 111 or GP. Blood pressure monitoring is also offered and many pilots for smoking cessation referrals from secondary care and contraception services being rolled out across English pharmacies.

Under the ‘Pharmacy First’ model, pharmacy will be required to do more but the Government is failing to recognise the real pressures the workforce is currently under. The Health Secretary’s plans to channel patients from GPs to pharmacists are doomed to fail if the pharmacist workforce crisis goes unaddressed.

Though official statistics collated in the CCA’s Review on the Community Pharmacist Workforce show an increase in the number of pharmacists, this hides the true picture of a tug-of-war between parts of the NHS and community pharmacy, changing work patterns including an increase in part-time working, and the ever-increasing NHS-driven workload that pharmacists face.

In 2019, the NHS pledged to recruit 6,000 pharmacists to Primary Care Networks (PCNs) by 2024 to support PCNs deliver services. Since then, around 2,400 community pharmacists have been recruited into PCNs, depleting the community pharmacist workforce. This has added significant pressure on pharmacists who work in community pharmacies. The Government and the NHS needs to work with the whole of primary care to develop a plan to enable primary care to meet all its pharmaceutical care needs, including the delivery of PCN care services in community pharmacies.

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association said:

“Plans for community pharmacy to do more in primary care are a mere pipe dream unless the Government faces the facts. We need the Government to recognise the pressures that pharmacies are under and devise a workforce plan that is led by evidence. The current whack-a-mole approach is short-sighted and unhelpful.”