Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians transitioning to new roles in primary care are to be supported with a structured induction programme developed by Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW), it has said.

The commitment came as part of the Welsh Government’s Strategic Workforce Plan for Primary Care for 2024/25-2029/30, published last week.

The plan also committed HEIW to increase the number of pre-registration training placements for pharmacists in primary care and establish a task and finish group to focus on primary care retention issues.

And following the ‘success’ of multi-sector training foundation placements for pharmacists, primary-care-specific guidance to increase opportunities for different models such as rotational roles, career portfolio models and flexible working across the multi-professional workforce would be developed to improve choice, flexibility and career development, the plan said.

‘Valuable contribution’ to support GP services

The plan highlighted evidence that suggested that ‘pharmacists improve medicines management within a GP practice environment’, while pharmacy technicians can ‘work within protocols’ and ‘manage workflow from discharge letters from hospital’.

Meanwhile, pharmacists can be trained in the management of minor illness and thereby relieving work from other practitioners, it said.

‘The data suggests that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are making a valuable contribution to the delivery of General Medical Services (GMS) and that this is a workforce that needs to continue to grow in light of demographic changes and a growth in long term conditions and polypharmacy,’ the plan suggested.

‘Our assessment is that all patients should benefit from pharmacy input at either a practice or cluster level focussing to support prudent, quality effective medicines management,’ it added.

And changes to pharmacist training was ‘likely to enhance the ability to deploy these skills in a wider range of care settings thereby extending their effectiveness within primary care’, the plan said.

But it warned: ‘Demand for pharmacy skills has increased in primary care over recent years and this has led to more opportunities being available leading to skills shortages.’

‘Increased pipeline’ of pharmacy professionals needed

While the overall number of pharmacists needing to be trained in Wales ‘will be assessed’ through demand modelling work and in alignment with the pharmacy workforce plan, the plan set out an expectation ‘that an increased pipeline will be required over the next five years’.

This came in response to an analysis of the Welsh primary care workforce that found that the number of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in direct patient care primary care roles has increased by 40% since March 2020, with over 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists or pharmacy technicians now employed within general practice.

In primary care as a whole, there were fewer healthcare professionals per patient in more deprived areas, the report suggested.

And in terms of pharmacy professionals, Cardiff and Vale and Betsi Cadwaladr had the lowest number per head, while Powys had the highest – with a national range of 0.02 to 0.12 pharmacy professionals per 100,000 patients.

And there were ‘no immediate concerns’ about retirement patterns of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in primary care over the next few years, since 80% are aged under 50.

RPS: Pharmacists 'pivotal' to care in all settings

Elen Jones, director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Wales, welcomed the launch of the strategic workforce plan for primary care, saying that RPS Wales would 'look forward to its implementation, alongside the already published strategic pharmacy workforce plan.'

'Pharmacists and their teams are pivotal to patient care in all settings. Pharmacists within primary care are delivering increased and more complex clinical services, ensuring patients get the care they need closer to home,' she said.

And she added that 'amid challenging workforce pressures', issues like 'adequate workforce planning, protected learning time and supportive working environments' were 'just some of the key themes needed to provide outstanding patient care'.

'We are committed to collaborating with HEIW and the workforce to help turn these plans into tangible action,' she said.

Earlier this month, a decline in the number of GP practices in Wales prompted the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) to call for government investment, amid concern over the ability of pharmacists working in general practice to deliver high-quality care.