The Company Chemists’ Association has revealed a ‘worrying shortfall’ of over 3,000 community pharmacists in England, a large amount of which has developed over the last five years.
Legally, a pharmacist must be present in every pharmacy to allow dispensing of prescriptions, if one is not available, the pharmacy will not be able to remain open.
In November 2021 there were an estimated 1,700 forced closures of pharmacies due to a lack of pharmacists, putting increasing demand and pressure on GP practices and A&E departments.
Scotland currently have a ‘Pharmacy First’ model where pharmacies are the first port of call for minor ailments and illnesses. The model was put into place to reduce the strain on other health services like GPs.
Sajid Javid, Health and Social Care Secretary has recently voiced plans to follow a similar route to Scotland which would include the introduction of services such as Community Pharmacist Consultations, where GPs can refer patients back to pharmacies for minor illnesses.
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.”
In 2019, the NHS pledged to recruit 6,000 pharmacists to the Primary Care Networks by 2024, so far around 2,400 pharmacists have been recruited.
The CCA have said that ‘The Health Secretary’s plans to channel patients from GPs to pharmacists are doomed to fail o the pharmacists workforce crisis goes unaddressed’.
The findings of the workforce shortfall have come from the CCA’s review of the Community Pharmacist Workforce in England, which uses the latest data from Health Education England (HEE) and the General Pharmaceutical Council.
In an interview with the Daily Mail in October last year, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “I want every practice to use the NHS Community Pharmacy Consultation service, so our brilliant community pharmacists can do more in terms of prescribing.
“I’m asking my department to work with the NHS and look at a ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme for England, so pharmacists can provide treatment for specific conditions such as sore throats, without patients having to go to their GP – building on pilot schemes in England and much as they already do in Scotland”.