Health

NHS scheme to treat more patients in pharmacies could be hit by chemists quitting for jobs in GP practices, industry leaders warn


NHS plans to treat more patients in pharmacies could fail because too many chemists have quit for jobs in GP practices, industry leaders have warned.

The ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme will launch on Wednesday, allowing patients to receive care in more than 10,000 community pharmacies in England.

They will be able to walk in for a consultation with a pharmacist for seven conditions without needing to book an appointment or see a doctor.

NHS England hopes it will free-up as many as 30 million GP appointments each year.

But the Company Chemist Association (CCA) warned the initiative is doomed unless GP surgeries are banned from recruiting more pharmacists.

NHS plans to treat more patients in pharmacies could fail because too many chemists have quit for jobs in GP practices, industry leaders have warned (Stock Image)

NHS plans to treat more patients in pharmacies could fail because too many chemists have quit for jobs in GP practices, industry leaders have warned (Stock Image)

The trade body, which represents leading chains such as Boots and Superdrug, said so many pharmacists are now working for GPs that they are struggling to recruit to their stores.

The NHS has incentivised GPs to recruit non-medical staff, such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and paramedics, in a bid to plug staffing gaps and ease pressure on family doctors.

But the CCA is now demanding an immediate recruitment freeze.

The shortage has driven up locum pharmacy rates, increasing the cost of trading, and leading to temporary closures, it added.

The 'Pharmacy First' scheme will launch on Wednesday, allowing patients to receive care in more than 10,000 community pharmacies in England, but the Company Chemist Association (CCA) warned the initiative is doomed unless GP surgeries are banned from recruiting more pharmacists (Stock Image)

The ‘Pharmacy First’ scheme will launch on Wednesday, allowing patients to receive care in more than 10,000 community pharmacies in England, but the Company Chemist Association (CCA) warned the initiative is doomed unless GP surgeries are banned from recruiting more pharmacists (Stock Image)

This is because pharmacies are not allowed to open unless there is at least one pharmacist on site.

Under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), which was introduced in 2019, the NHS reimburses GPs the salaries and some costs of 17 staff roles within their healthcare teams, including ‘clinical pharmacists’.

As of September 2023, almost 5,300 full-time equivalent pharmacists had been recruited into GP surgeries through the ARRS.

Meanwhile, the average hourly locum rate in England has soared by 85 per cent, from £20.02 in 2020 to £37.14 in July 2023.

The CCA is calling for a pause in further ARRS recruitment of pharmacists until an evaluation of its impact on the sector and benefits to patients has been undertaken.

Under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), which was introduced in 2019, the NHS reimburses GPs the salaries and some costs of 17 staff roles within their healthcare teams, including 'clinical pharmacists' (Stock Image)

Under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), which was introduced in 2019, the NHS reimburses GPs the salaries and some costs of 17 staff roles within their healthcare teams, including ‘clinical pharmacists’ (Stock Image)

As of September 2023, almost 5,300 full-time equivalent pharmacists had been recruited into GP surgeries through the ARRS (Stock Image)

As of September 2023, almost 5,300 full-time equivalent pharmacists had been recruited into GP surgeries through the ARRS (Stock Image)

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said: ‘In trying to solve the GP shortage, the NHS has merely created a shortage of community pharmacists, and increased the cost of doing business.

‘This short-sighted “whack-a-mole” policy has been to the detriment of the community pharmacy sector.

‘Pharmacies are being asked to take on more and more workload to free up GP capacity, but we need pharmacists back in pharmacies.

‘We’re excited by Pharmacy First, but we cannot deliver the new service with one hand tied behind our back.’ 

Pharmacies that have signed up for NHS Pharmacy First will be able to retreat and prescribe drugs for earache, sore throats, sinusitis, shingles, impetigo, urinary tract infections and infected insect bites and stings.

In 2019, the NHS rolled out the ARRS outlining the ‘intention…to grow additional capacity through new roles, and by doing so, help to solve the workforce shortage in general practice’.

However, a report by the King’s Fund think tank on ARRS found many pharmacists felt ‘they were not being given tasks appropriate to their competencies’, and ‘many felt…under-appreciated’, whilst some ‘often felt isolated’.



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