The Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) should be reviewed to see whether any flexibility on the funding criteria could ‘reduce the drain of community pharmacists into primary care networks’, a parliamentary committee has recommended.

The review should be completed within a three month timeframe, and its outcome shared by the government with the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC), the influential group of MPs added.

The recommendation came as part of the HSCC’s report, published today, following its inquiry into pharmacy.

It said that the ARRS, which since 2019 has provided funding to primary care networks (PCNs) to recruit additional roles - including pharmacists - to work in PCNs and general practices, was a point of controversy within community pharmacy’.

During the inquiry, community pharmacy bodies raised concerns that since 2019, many pharmacists had moved out of community pharmacy into newly created ARRS roles within PCNs.

Nearly half (£387m) of the £839m spent on ARRS roles between 2019 and 2022 was spent on the recruitment of clinical pharmacists, then health minister Neil O’Brien revealed last year.

And the Independent Pharmacies Association (IPA – then AIMp) suggested that the NHS-funded ARRS roles were ‘perversely out-compet[ing] community pharmacy roles’ which ‘have little to no ability to set the pricing of their services higher to fund more expensive labour’.

During the inquiry, president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association Dr Graham Stretch said that at the time of his evidence, 3,057 of the 4,689 pharmacists supported by ARRS came from the community sector.

While this was ‘a significant number’ that had had a negative impact on community pharmacy, Dr Stretch suggested this was less than half of the total growth in the pharmacy register during that time.

But he added that there should be greater flexibility on how ARRS funding was used, with ‘ARRS moneys being used to deliver those services from wherever is best placed to deliver them’.

Speaking to The Pharmacist today following the publication of the HSCC report, Mr Stretch highlighted the need for investment in community pharmacy so that it could ‘invest in the staffing, training and infrastructure needed to effectively and safely deliver on the promise described in the report’.

Community pharmacy funding should be recovered to a financial position that was tied to inflation and backdated to include inflationary rises since 2014, he added.

‘Community pharmacy has a unique, accessible place in the health and social jigsaw and must be a key partner for the NHS in delivery of primary care,’ he said.

And he added that community pharmacy should ‘have equal standing, parity of esteem and equitable investment with other providers in GP and be an integral part of PCNs’.

The HSCC report found that the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) in England was ‘not fit for purpose’, had contributed to the financial pressures that pharmacies are facing, and should be ‘completely overhauled’ urgently.

It also set out recommended measures to tackle medicines shortages and ease pressure on GPs.