In-depth

A catalyst for change

In In-depth

The pandemic has generated a real opportunity for the struggling community pharmacy workforce, but what's being done about it? 

Community pharmacies are facing “significant challenges recruiting and retaining colleagues, and a high number of longstanding vacancies”, according a new review published by the Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group (CPWDG).

Laying vacant

Some 40 per cent of community pharmacies in England responded to the initial survey conducted in July 2020, which cited the reasons for people leaving the sector as “complex and multifaceted”. These included concerns about pay, excessive workload and pressure, inflexible working hours and a lack of opportunity for career progression.

The survey revealed that almost 10 per cent of full-time pharmacist roles were vacant, rising to 18 per cent in the south west. But “concerns are not confined to pharmacists,” the report notes.

Vacancies for pharmacy technicians were found to be unfilled for significant periods of time – six months, on average. Colleagues were also reported to have left to join other parts of the pharmacy sector and there were also high staff turnover rates of over 25 per cent per annum among trainee dispensing assistants and healthcare assistants, resulting in workforce shortfalls.

As a result, the CPWDG has said more needs to be done to improve the support given to pharmacy team members and their professional development, including the implementation of a programme of continued education and development. It is also planning a programme of work to present community pharmacy as a career of choice, the CPWDG added.

Utilise pharmacy

Although the review expressed such concerns for the sector, it called the Covid-19 pandemic “a catalyst for change”, saying it has highlighted the potential of community pharmacy to support the wider NHS.

“It is clear that community pharmacy is already a vital point of care for many patients, but for some patients, healthcare colleagues and commissioners alike, there is a lack of understanding of both the capabilities of members of the pharmacy team as healthcare professionals, as well as the services available (or possible) within community pharmacy,” said the CPWDG. 

As such, the CPWDG has called for pharmacy technicians to be added to Patient Group Direction as healthcare professionals who can provide vaccinations; for pharmacy teams to be supported to take on additional tasks, which then support the pharmacist to deliver further clinical services; and that Primary Care Networks should be granted flexibility to utilise funding to commission community pharmacies to deliver services locally. 

Commenting on the report, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “The NHS cannot do without community pharmacy and it is therefore essential that all stakeholders come together to ensure our sector receives the relevant support and recognition, and is given the right opportunities for our workforce to utilise their skillsets.”

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