The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has acknowledged the high demands faced by pharmacists working ‘across all of Great Britain’, following a challenge from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA).

Last week the PDA questioned how the regulator will treat issues arising from workplace pressures in Scotland and Wales, after the GPhC issued a statement reassuring registrants in England that challenging contexts would be taken into account it in fitness to practise (FtP) proceedings.

In a joint letter with England’s chief pharmaceutical officer, the regulator warned pharmacy teams would experience challenging circumstances over the coming weeks due to high demand, staff shortages, sickness and industrial action.

And it sought to reassure pharmacists that any such context would be considered ‘in the unlikely event’ that they were referred to the regulator.

In a statement published in response on Saturday, the PDA said: ‘The GPhC is the regulator for Great Britain, but the letter appears only to have been sent to registrants in England.

‘PDA members in Wales and Scotland have therefore asked what this means for the workplace pressures in those countries.’

In a response provided to The Pharmacist, the GPhC said: ‘We know that everyone working in pharmacy across all of Great Britain continues to experience high and sustained demands and pressures, and exceptional challenges.

‘As we said in our statement, if a there is a referral to the regulator, the context in which a pharmacist or pharmacy technician was working in at the time, including factors relating to the environment in which they were working and all relevant resources, guidelines or protocols will be considered.’

Pharmacy staff shortages ‘affecting every sector’ in Scotland

Also responding to the PDA’s query, a Scottish Government spokesperson said that it was ‘deeply grateful for the continued hard work of pharmacists and pharmacy teams’ across community pharmacies, GP practices and hospital pharmacies.

‘Winter is always a particularly busy time, with the Christmas and New Year bank holidays to work around ensuring people have the prescriptions they need and access to help and advice from pharmacy teams on treating conditions such as urinary tract infections and impetigo through our Pharmacy First service,’ they added.

They said that the Scottish Government would ‘continue to work closely with the NHS, and regulatory, professional, and representative bodies for pharmacy, to ensure every member of the pharmacy team is supported to maintain their own wellbeing’.

And they added that pharmacy teams also have access to the dedicated national wellbeing helpline and the national wellbeing hub as part of the health and social care workforce.

On workforce concerns, they added: ‘The Scottish Government Health and Social Care Integrated Workforce plan committed to increasing pharmacy pre-registration training places by 120 over four years from 2020/21 and we increased training places available for pharmacy technician training by 108 in 2022.

‘The chief pharmaceutical officer has established a national pharmacy workforce forum to look at the workforce challenges, bringing together stakeholders from pharmacy education and pharmacy service provision to set a strategic workforce plan for the profession.’

The director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Scotland recently raised concerns about workforce planning in Scotland in evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee.

Laura Wilson told The Pharmacist last week that since RPS Scotland published its workforce briefing in November 2021, the pharmacy workforce across the nation ‘continues to be under significant pressure, with shortages of pharmacy staff affecting every sector’.

She added: ‘The reasons for the shortages are multifactorial, but the fact that national workforce planning for pharmacy is not in place remains a huge barrier to devising and implementing effective solutions to reverse this negative trend.’

Ms Wilson’s comments follow a statement from the British Medical Association (BMA) highlighting ‘unsafe levels’ of staffing within the medical workforce in Scotland.

‘Right infrastructure more important than ever’ in Wales

The Welsh Government also responded to the PDA’s concerns. A spokesperson told The Pharmacist that it was ‘very grateful for the contributions pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the wider pharmacy team make every day, especially when there are high levels of demand’.

They said: ‘Pharmacy teams have a critical role in the delivery of safe and effective health services.

‘We continue to work closely with the NHS, and regulatory, professional and representative bodies for pharmacy, to ensure every pharmacy professional in Wales is supported to maintain their own wellbeing and deliver outstanding care.’

They added that the Welsh government was ‘committed to working with the pharmacy profession to deliver on new goals and support them to ensure they can continue to meet the changing needs of patients and our NHS.’

‘This includes providing record levels of funding for community pharmacies and more opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to undertake additional clinical training than ever before,’ they said.

Elen Jones, RPS director for Wales, told The Pharmacist that pharmacy teams in Wales were currently under ‘immense pressure’.

‘Together with recruitment challenges, the profession is meeting growing patient demand whilst taking on increased clinical roles,’ she said.

‘It’s therefore more important than ever that we have the right infrastructure is in place to support the profession,’ Ms Jones added, while welcoming the national strategic pharmacy workforce plan developed by Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) in 2023.

‘However, in order for it to have tangible benefits, it must be appropriately funded and delivered at pace,’ Ms Jones said.

And she said that the RPS in Wales was also calling for practical solutions to support pharmacists and ease pressures.

‘These include protected training time to be in place during working hours, investment the pharmacy workforce to train more pharmacy staff and upskill existing staff to work at the top of their competence and greater adoption of 56 day prescribing intervals,’ she said.