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Practices to carry pressure of 3,000-strong pharmacist shortage

by Jess Hacker
16 February 2022

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Efforts to reduce pressures on GP practices could be undermined by a shortfall of 3,000 pharmacists, it has been suggested.

According to analysis of data, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has identified a shortfall of more than 3,000 community pharmacists in England which has developed over the last five years.

The trade union noted that vacancy rates for community pharmacists have more than doubled since 2017, with plans to channel patients from GPs to pharmacists ‘doomed to fail’ if the crisis goes unaddressed.

It comes after health secretary Sajid Javid announced intentions to adopt Scotland’s ‘pharmacy first’ model, which would see GP capacity freed up by directing patients to their pharmacist for minor problems, like blood pressure monitoring.

But the CCA said that the Government is ‘failing to recognise the real pressures’ that the pharmacy workforce is under.

Pharmacy closures push patients to GPs

Closed pharmacies will push patients toward GP practices which will in turn lump pressure on staff, it said.

It estimated that 1,700 pharmacies closed last November, the main reason for these closures was a site’s inability to source a pharmacist.

The Government and NHS England need to implement a ‘holistic’ primary care strategy to prevent increased waiting times in both GP and pharmacy services, it suggested.

It added that they must 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, the CCA’s chief executive, 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.’

NHSE reported last month that GP practices are informally directing patients to community pharmacies, instead of making a formal referral to Community Pharmacy Consultation Service.

And last week it was reported that NHSE’s elective recovery plan will require pharmacy input despite making no mention of pharmacist’s involvement. 

In November, Mr Javid urged patients to go ‘directly to pharmacies’ instead of GPs as part of a push toward the pharmacy first model.