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Community pharmacy access concerns raised in parliament

Full or part day closures caused by workforce shortages

September 13th 2023

Tagged: political news Pharmacy owners' news

By Ailsa Colquhoun

Concerns have been raised in parliament about access to community pharmacies in England, due to temporary closures caused by a lack of pharmacists.

Closures can affect part or all of the day, particularly among large pharmacy chains, a briefing on community pharmacy in England, has revealed.

Commissioned by the Health and Social Care Committee, the data shows that locum pharmacist costs have risen 80 per cent in the past year alone, and the expectation is that by 2024-25, staffing costs will have more than doubled, compared to 2015-16. Compounded by the rise in energy bills, inflationary pressures, rises in living wages and increasing instances of dispensing medicines at a loss due to market and pricing issues, pharmacies are finding the current financial situation “unsustainable”. The community pharmacy negotiator for England has called for an “urgent uplift” in funding.

Agreed in July 2019, the community pharmacy contract sets out a five-year deal for community pharmacies, guaranteeing funding levels until 2023/24. Under the contract, the Government is also able to improve the amount of retained margin, based on reimbursement prices above cost prices.

In the briefing, stakeholders note that community pharmacy’s clinical service offer has expanded in recent years, through a mixed provision of Essential, Advanced, National Enhanced and Locally Commissioned Services. Innovations include medicines optimisation services, contraception and minor ailments supply schemes.

Community Pharmacy England, the negotiator, has expressed concern about the capacity of the pharmacy workforce to deliver new services, which has increased costs. It states that many pharmacies are operating in crisis mode and are being forced to reduce the services that they offer to patients and local communities.

The 2022 Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey reveals a 6 per cent reduction in the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) pharmacists, and a vacancy rate of 16 per cent. Among pharmacy technicians, the vacancy rate is 20 per cent. Pharmacist recruitment into general practice is cited as a reason for the workforce shortages, alongside Covid-19 disruption, more part time working, poor working conditions and lack of support with increasing workloads.

Data from the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) shows that there were 11,500 active community pharmacies in England in 2021-22, which was the lowest number since 2015/16. DHSC data for December 2022-June 2023 suggests a further reduction of 222 pharmacies. Official data will be released in October.

NHS England has said the ARRS will be reviewed in 2023/24 to “ensure that it remains fit for purpose and aligned to future ambitions for general practice”.