More than 31,000 staff – including pharmacists, mental health practitioners and social prescribers – have been recruited to work in general practice under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) since 2019.

The total was announced today by NHS England (NHSE), alongside a video to raise awareness of the roles available to patients, after a new survey suggested more than a third (36%) of people in England are unaware of the roles.

The survey also found that more than two in three respondents said they were happy to receive care from a health worker other than a GP.

The video, launched today, shows three children going behind the scenes at a general practice to meet some of these ARRS staff and learn more about what they do.

The ARRS scheme was launched in 2019 to fund staff, including pharmacists, working within a general practice setting.

But it has faced backlash from the community pharmacy sector, who suggested that recruitment of pharmacists into general practice and PCNs was impacting on the number of pharmacists available to work in community.

Dr Amanda Doyle, national director for primary care and community services at NHS England, said that GP practice teams were treating half a million more patients a week compared to before the pandemic.

‘This demand is only going to increase with an ageing population so the NHS must adapt its services to match this need,’ she said.

Health minister Neil O’Brien added: For most of us, general practice is our front door to the NHS and this is why we’re expanding the support on offer to patients.’

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, welcomed the information campaign and the expansion of support available to patients within a GP practice.

‘Enabling patients to receive care from different health professionals in the familiar surroundings of their general practice will suit many patients,’ she said.

‘But they need to know what services are available and how they fit in with the more familiar professionals such as the GP and practice nurse.’

Earlier this week at the Pharmacy Show, chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) for England, David Webb, warned against viewing community and practice pharmacists as ‘binary choices’.

‘The reality is that the pharmacy professionals make a huge contribution in whichever sector,’ he said.

And he suggested that the pharmacy workforce should be viewed as one workforce at an integrated care system (ICS) level.

In its workforce plan, published in June, NHSE said that it would seek to extend the ARRS by increasing the number of non-GP direct patient care staff by around 15,000 by 2036/37.

But it said that the expansion would be ‘carefully managed’, taking into account additional training of pharmacists, to ensure sustainable workforce growth and in consideration of the additional capacity required to staff roles across primary care.

At the time, Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), and Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), issued a joint statement, welcoming the commitment to take into account community workforce needs.

‘ARRS only makes sense if it is adding capacity to the primary care system, not stripping capacity from other community and secondary care settings,’ they said.

And general practice pharmacist and president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association Graham Stretch told The Pharmacist he anticipated that any extra ARRS recruitment would predominately be for newly designated ARRS roles, such as mental health nurses, and that he expected a slowing down in recruitment of pharmacy professionals.