A new report has shed light on issues around career progression and funding for pharmacy staff recruited under the Additional Roles Reimbursement (ARRS) scheme in GP practices.

The ARRS was set up to recruit 26,000 additional staff into general practice by 2024 and the study – authored by Bethan Jones, Zoe Anchors, Sarah Voss and Nicola Walsh and published by The British Journal of General Practice – observes that the implementation has ‘not always been straightforward’.

The paper – titled Challenges and enablers to implementation of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme in primary care: a qualitative study – draws upon 91 interviews with ARRS healthcare professionals and key professional stakeholders involved in staff education or scheme implementation across three integrated care systems in England.

One practice manager interviewed for the study expressed the view that ARRS staff were instrumental in time and resource savings. They said: ‘I think the pharmacists have really taken workload off of the GPs, and also the pharmacy technicians in terms of what they’ve taken off some of the admin side of things.’

However, a recurring theme in the interviews with pharmacy staff was concern over career progression. Some participants even stated that ARRS staff had left roles over the issue.

One pharmacy technician said: ‘You don’t keep pharmacists for two minutes. As soon as they finish the [independent prescribing] pathway they’re gone.’

A workforce lead observed: ‘One of the other challenges is that there is no kind of entry level pharmacist role in general practice.’

The study summarised that the ARRS ‘does not build in sufficient career progression’ for staff.

Job security also emerged as a concern as a result of the way ARRS is funded. A clinical pharmacist told the study: ‘I don’t know how long the ARRS funding will last… there’s this break point and you think, “Oh, does that mean I’m not going to be employed after that?”’

Other funding issues were also discussed. Interviewees described how the scheme did not cover certain costs associated with recruiting and retaining staff, such as costs for supervision, third party recruitment tariffs and pay uplifts.

The study also observed that rigid salary scales have led to primary care networks (PCNs) having to find extra funding for additional costs or to make roles attractive.

One pharmacy technician said: ‘[Healthcare organisation] just put out 10 jobs for Band 5 and Band 6 [pharmacy] technicians at £33,000 and £40,000. We can’t get anywhere near it.’

Under the scheme, primary care networks can claim salary reimbursement for several roles, including pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

The report concluded that while most ARRS staff feel valued, the scheme has broadened expertise available in primary care rather than reducing GP burden, which was originally anticipated.

The study follows a Pulse PCN survey last year that highlighted other workforce issues surrounding ARRS.

For example, nearly three quarters (72.8%) of practice staff who responded to the survey did not have the space to house their ARRS staff, including pharmacists working in general practices and PCNs.

A UK-wide survey by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association last year also highlighted concerns from pharmacists working in general practice about inadequate inductions and a lack of ongoing training and support.