‘Greater planning and forward thinking’ is required to support integrated care boards (ICBs) to build ‘one pharmacy workforce’ that can be deployed across different settings, an influential committee of MPs has urged.

A new report published by the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) stressed this would become ‘ever more urgent’ as 2026 approaches and all newly qualified pharmacists will be independent prescribers.

The 68-page document, which comes as part of the committee’s inquiry into pharmacy services, aired its specific concerns around the pharmacy workforce in England and reiterated calls for an ‘integrated and funded’ workforce plan for the profession.

Such a plan should be developed and laid before parliament within 12 months and should focus on delivering promises set out in the NHS Long Term Plan – which included pledges to expand training placements for pharmacists by 29% by 2028/29 and by nearly 50% by 2031/32.

As part of this, the committee said the plan must focus on addressing ‘the lack of access’ to placements and supervision, as well as on training, protected learning time and ‘clear structures’ for professional career development.

In particular, the report identified the need to ensure those graduating as independent prescribers from 2026 are ‘given protected learning time, adequate supervision, career development opportunities and that there are commissioned services available so they regularly make use of their IP qualification’.

This recommendation comes amid concerns from within the sector around a lack of designated prescribing practitioners (DPPs) – required to support students from 2025/26 onwards – and as the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) recently called on NHS England to provide a full list of organisations with available DPPs.

Overarchingly, the committee said ‘greater planning and forward thinking continues to be needed around the full pharmacy workforce’ and that this must account for the ‘changing roles’ in the community as well as the need for ICBs to develop ‘one pharmacy workforce’ to work across settings.

Any workforce planning, at a national or ICB level, must also ‘ensure the appropriate and safe mix of skills in all settings’, added the report.

In addition, the HSCC recommended that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should be added to the list of healthcare professionals able to access the Learning Support Fund – a scheme which currently supports eligible students on nursing, midwifery, medical, dental and allied health profession courses to claim for support for travel and accommodation expenses.

Earlier this year, health minister Andrew Stephenson claimed that NHS England had acknowledged that funding to support students with the costs of clinical placements is ‘inconsistently paid’.

This came after a joint letter to the government on the issue from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association in September 2023.

Today, Neeraj Shah, head of public affairs at the CCA, said: ‘We support the call to develop an integrated and funded workforce plan including the provision of adequate support for independent prescribing graduates from 2026, especially given our concerns regarding the availability of designated prescribing practitioners.’

Earlier this month, NHS England announced that Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) funding could be used to fund DPPs, including enabling prescribers to train as DPPs or funding ‘sessional time’ for DPPs to support trainees.

Today’s report also raised concerns around community pharmacy funding, medicines shortages and to publish a long-term vision for the further development of community pharmacy clinical services.