Integrated care boards (ICBs) in northern England had the highest number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) community pharmacist vacancies last autumn, according to the results of a survey released today by NHS England.

Greater Manchester ICB had the highest number of FTE community pharmacist vacancies (180), followed by North East and North Cumbria ICB at 154.

ICBs in London also reported high numbers of FTE community pharmacist vacancies in NHS England’s Community Pharmacy Workforce Survey, with North West London reporting 148 FTE vacancies and South East London 143 FTE vacancies as of autumn 2022.

Across all roles, the total FTE community pharmacy workforce decreased by 6% in the year since the survey was previously conducted in autumn 2021.

In total, 29% of the FTE vacancies reported by pharmacy contractors in autumn 2022 were for pharmacists, with 65% of those vacancies being for employed pharmacists.

A quarter (25%) were for locum pharmacists – defined as locum pharmacists who work regularly in the pharmacy, such as once a week or twice a month – and 11% were for relief pharmacists – defined as relief pharmacists who work regularly in the pharmacy, such as once a week or twice a month.

One in five vacancies were for trained dispensing assistants, making up 20% of the total vacancies across the whole pharmacy team. And 15% of vacancies were for trainee dispensing assistants.

One in 10 (11%) of the total number of vacancies reported in autumn 2022 was for pharmacy technicians.

But there was variation across the country as to which roles were vacant.

Pharmacy contractors in different areas also reported different levels of difficulty filling each role, but most respondents said that it was ‘very difficult’ to fill a pharmacist vacancy.

And the majority of respondents reported difficulty in filling trained dispensing assistant roles.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) welcomed the publication of the results, but warned that since it was gathered 10 months ago the data could already be out of date.

'Since the autumn of 2022 the situation in community pharmacy has continued to develop. Future surveys will need to be processed and published more quickly if they are to be used to inform accurate decision making,' he said.

And he added that 'immediate action' needed to be taken to address growing pharmacist vacancy rates.

Over 95% of community pharmacy owners responded to the NHSE survey in 2022, with 87% of the data being usable. The data shared in the results was weighted to account for community pharmacies who did not complete the survey.