It is a well established principle that continuity of care – seeing the same health professional over time – improves patient outcomes. It is something pharmacists, embedded in their local communities, instinctively recognise in their day-to-day practice.
Commissioners understand this as well. In Wales, for example, the chief pharmacist Andrew Evans has said on several occasions that the NHS should value continuity and reward those pharmacies that deliver it.
As community pharmacy’s clinical offering expands, those crucial interpersonal relationships that make such a difference to patients’ health and wellbeing will be more important than ever. However, continuity of care requires continuity of personnel – and there’s trouble ahead. Community pharmacy is facing a workforce crisis of potentially catastrophic proportions.
The exodus of pharmacists in Northern Ireland to general practice might be pharmacy’s canary in the coal mine. Community pharmacy there is almost on the point of collapse as a result. In England, meanwhile, an additional 7,500 pharmacists could be needed in primary care networks by 2024.
Where are they all going to come from? This shift in employment will inevitably impact on a community pharmacy workforce already under strain. There simply aren’t enough pharmacists to go round.
An integrated workforce strategy to support the recruitment and retention, training and career development of community pharmacists is urgently needed. Swapping one workforce crisis in GP land for another closer to home is not the answer.