Exclusive: Community pharmacy is facing a potential workforce crisis with as many as 50 per cent of pharmacists considering an alternative career in general practice, a recent survey indicates.
Earlier this summer Pharmacy Magazine surveyed 201 UK community pharmacists on their attitudes to their own roles and towards roles in other sectors, particularly general practice.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents felt it was at least quite likely that within the next five years they would leave community pharmacy and either work in another sector or leave the profession altogether. This was significantly more true for those working in multiples and less true for those in senior management positions.
On average, pharmacists rated their job satisfaction at 5.6 out of 10, with pharmacists employed by multiples once more giving poorer scores than others (average 5.02). Half of the total sample said they are less satisfied with their role now than they were three years ago, rising to 61 per cent of those based in multiples.
One pharmacist commented: “For years pharmacists have been treated as an undesirable necessary expense by multiples who are driven by purchase profits and have no professional interest.”
Pharmacists responding to the survey said reducing their workload was the key priority to improve their job satisfaction, followed by a more clinical role and improved pay.
For those weighing their options, general practice and (in England) primary care network roles were by far the most popular, each cited by exactly half of the total sample.
Again, pharmacists working in multiples were more likely to be actively considering general practice, with 59 per cent expressing an interest compared to 41 per cent of those working in independents. Eighty-nine per cent of those working in multiples said they knew a pharmacist who had made the jump, compared to 69 per cent of independents.
Among those who were considering general practice, perceived better work-life balance was the biggest deciding factor (69 per cent). This was followed by more opportunities to use skills (61 per cent) and better pay (48 per cent).
Pharmacists cited pull factors like “decreased workload, better staffing levels” and “less commercial pressure”.
Others worried about the future of the sector, with one noting: “There is a feeling among community pharmacists that in a few years their jobs will cease to exist as pharmacies move towards a hub and spoke system.”
Some were more sceptical about the supposed advantages of general practice. Asked about potential drawbacks to making the leap, 30 per cent said they believed they would earn less money, with a similar proportion concerned they would have less autonomy.
One commented: “The work carried out in general practice by pharmacists is very variable.
“It can be very professionally rewarding clinical work, or it can be very mundane and boring repetitive administrative work.”
The survey follows recent NHS data showing the number of PCN pharmacists in England shot up more than tenfold in the year to March 2021, while Health Education England recently revealed that 1,094 pharmacists underwent primary care training in 2020-21, a 43 per cent leap on the previous year.
The Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group, a lobbying group representing the NPA, CCA and AIMp, published snapshot findings in June indicating that almost 10 per cent of full-time pharmacist roles were vacant.
AIMp chief executive Leyla Hannbeck told PM she was raising the issue of community pharmacy’s workforce crisis at the highest level in NHS England, commenting: “If we want to be on an equal level to GPs, does it make sense for so many of us to be employed in general practice?”
Speaking to PM, CCA chief Malcolm Harrison said the findings were “concerning” and that he would work with the Government “to consider measures, including those related to matters such as automation, original pack dispensing and supervision” to address capacity issues.