An inconsistent approach to the chief pharmacist role across integrated care boards (ICBs) in England has seen ‘wide differences in the scope, influence and responsibilities’ of those in post, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has warned.

In a new report reflecting on the last 12 months, the RPS has highlighted ‘significant’ progress across the different pharmacy settings, including within community and general practice.

However, it also flagged the shortfalls within pharmacy, including workforce challenges, funding constraints and community pharmacy closures.

Published this week, the new paper reviews RPS England’s 10-year ‘vision’ for pharmacy a year after it was launched in conjunction with the King’s Fund.

The vision set out the future of pharmacy professional practice and development, as well as how pharmacy teams can be maximised to best support patients and the public.

In its new paper, the RPS celebrated the launch of Pharmacy First in England, as well as the development of prescribing pathfinder pilots and further digital integration between settings as some of the highlights of the past 12 months.

The publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the public consultation on pharmacy supervision and Community Pharmacy England’s own vision for community pharmacy were also welcomed by the RPS.

‘There has been some fantastic work across the profession, as well as collaboration with pharmacy organisations, professional bodies and others to drive this forward,’ said chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board Tase Oputu.

However, she warned: ‘Continued pressures on the workforce and the need for sustainable funding mean there is still more to do to transform, unlock and enable the full breadth of opportunities for pharmacy teams.’

Within its new report, the RPS said workforce shortages presented ‘a significant challenge in the pharmacy sector, across all areas of practice’, and that this had led to ‘severe difficulties for numerous providers’.

For community pharmacies, when coupled with ‘a constrained funding model’, the RPS said ‘these challenges have led to closures, subsequently diminishing patient access in some localities’.

In addition, the RPS warned of the ‘incredible’ demands and pressures faced by ICBs and integrated care systems (ICSs), including further funding constraints.

The situation meant ‘key operational roles, such as community pharmacy clinical leads, are at risk of disappearing’, suggested the organisation.

There was also ‘inconsistency in the approaches to chief pharmacists’ roles, it added.

‘In some localities there are chief pharmacists who are embedded into the ICS leadership helping to shape the future of the planning and commissioning of pharmacy services,’ the report said, highlighting the North East and North Cumbria.

‘However, the model adopted here, while positive, is not yet reflected in all ICSs. There has been inconsistency in approach.’

The report added: ‘Most ICBs do have a senior pharmacist, although not necessarily a chief pharmacist, who is able to raise the position of pharmacy within the system.

‘However, there are wide differences in the scope, influence and responsibilities of these pharmacists across England.’

A similar issue was recently raised by the chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Steve Brine, who told The Pharmacist there was a lack of pharmacy representation on ICBs.

According to the RPS, central to the progress across pharmacy had been ‘the work within local systems’.

‘ICBs and ICSs, are still nascent organisations that are facing incredible demand pressures against funding shortages,’ said the report.

‘It is essential that pharmacy teams continue to help drive the commissioning and redesign of system wide pathways, building in evaluation of locally commissioned services.’