Pharmacists could potentially train as doctors under a shortened medical degree programme which would be available for some existing healthcare professions, while a pharmacist degree apprenticeship is also being considered, NHS England has announced today in its new workforce plan.

The Long-Term Workforce Plan also announced that the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) will be extended but said that this 'would be carefully managed taking into account additional training of pharmacists’, to ensure sustainable workforce growth and capacity across primary care.

NHS England has also committed to expanding training places for pharmacists by 29% by 2028/29, with the ambition to increase training places for pharmacists by nearly 50% to around 5,000 places by 2031/32.

The plan also set out the projected workforce needs of community pharmacy and dentistry separately, ‘taking account of the unique circumstances in these settings’.

And it said that efficiencies in community pharmacy could be delivered through better use of the skills mix of pharmacy teams, including allowing pharmacy technicians to work under patient group directions (PGDs), and using hub and spoke and automation to free up time spent on dispensing.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England, welcomed the government and NHSE's 'proactive approach to workforce planning' and inclusion of community pharmacy within that.

And he said that for hub and spoke dispensing to be financially viable for pharmacy owners, it must be supported by 'significant investment'.

'The success or failure of this workforce plan will depend on its implementation,' he added, saying that the sector needed assurance that it would not 'fall through the gaps' as integrated care systems take on responsibility for workforce planning.

'Community pharmacy wants to do more, but pharmacies need affordable and available pharmacists and other staff members in order to do so. This workforce plan must deliver that,' he said.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, and Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association, issued a joint statement saying that they were 'pleased to see the community pharmacy workforce included in both the plan and the associated modelling'.

They added: 'The NHS now explicitly recognises the need for more pharmacists, to match ever-increasing patient demand and the development of clinical services.

'By including the pharmacy workforce within the scope of the plan, the NHS is recognising the importance of integrating the third largest healthcare profession in strategic, long term planning.'

While they said they were doubtful about the continued funding of ARRS, they 'look forward to further details' on how it would be managed to mitigate the impact on community pharmacy, calling for any plans to be coordinated on a national as well as integrated care board level.

They welcomed any efforts to boost skill mix and allowing pharmacy technicians to work under a PGD.

And they called for the NHS to be 'clearer on the opportunities prescribing pharmacists will have in the future'.

'Plans to upskill the existing workforce to become IPs must also gather pace, the need is now and we must work together to realise opportunity,' they added.

Meanwhile, the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists said that it welcomed the plan's 'overt consideration of pharmacy professionals and recognition that training places need to increase over the next 10 years'.

But it said that the plan must be coupled with 'sufficient funding to realise the ambitions detailed within'.

And they added that they were 'somewhat perplexed about juxtaposing the need for more pharmacists with promotion of a scheme where they can leave the profession to become doctors'.