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Filling pharmacist vacancies ‘very difficult’ in all but three ICB regions


Filling pharmacist vacancies ‘very difficult’ in all but three ICB regions

A majority of community pharmacy contractors in all but three ICB regions in England report that it is “very difficult” to fill pharmacist vacancies, an annual workforce survey reveals.

The Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey for 2022, published today (August 3) by NHS England, reveals that in 39 out of 42 Integrated Care Board regions, 50 per cent or more of contractors say it is very difficult to recruit employed or locum pharmacists.

The exceptions are Greater Manchester (46 per cent of contractors report that hiring is very difficult), Cumbria & North East (48 per cent) and North West London (46 per cent). The two regions with the biggest recruitment challenges were Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly (89 per cent) and Somerset (88 per cent).

The highest number of full-time equivalent vacancies were reported in Greater Manchester (180 FTE vacancies versus 1,076 filled positions), North West London (148 vacancies versus 968) and South East London (148 vacancies versus 566).

Overall, the survey found that the vacancy rate had risen to 16 per cent – up from eight per cent last year – and that the number of FTE pharmacists fell by 13 per cent from 2021, when there were 20,849 filled FTE posts.

Despite this, the number of all pharmacists (not FTE equivalent) employed in community pharmacies saw a one per cent increase to 27,711 from 27,406 in 2021.

The survey also found that locum pharmacists “are being used more as part of the staffing model” due to changing workforce patterns in the sector, but that they are “working fewer hours on average” than in previous years. Meanwhile, the number of pharmacist independent prescribers rose by 37 per cent to 422.

In addition to the findings for pharmacists, NHSE found that FTE pharmacy technicians numbers had fallen by 17 per cent and delivery driver numbers by 18 per cent. Pharmacy technicians also had the highest vacancy rate (20 per cent), although the level of reported difficulty in filling these posts was more mixed than for pharmacists.

The mandatory survey was carried out from October 6-November 30 last year and had a 95 per cent response rate, up from 47 per cent in the previous survey. Health Education England said the data is “intended to support decisions about where the community pharmacy workforce can contribute to supporting NHS clinical service expansion” and inform education reforms for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, as well as the ongoing review of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) – which funds primary care networks to recruit pharmacy staff for non-community pharmacy positions.

NHSE national education director Alan Ryan said: “Healthcare systems require high quality and transparent workforce data to plan and deliver safe care, improve patient outcomes, and inform staff training and development. Following the publication of the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the findings of the Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey are more important than ever.”

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “The survey findings confirm what we have been saying for over a year, that pharmacist vacancy rates in the community pharmacy have increased significantly since 2021. Following the recent release of the NHS workforce plan we need to now see immediate action taken to address this growing problem.

“We are concerned, however, that the data informing these findings was gathered 10 months ago, and there is a risk that it is already out of date.

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