The number of clinical pharmacists working in general practice in England has tripled since 2019, when the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) was introduced, figures have shown.

Workforce data from the Health Foundation has revealed a 277% rise in the number of clinical pharmacists working in general practice between 2019 and 2021 - from 1,241 to 4,684. In comparison, 584 pharmacists worked in general practice in 2017. Pharmacy technician numbers in general practice also grew - from none in 2017, to 71 in 2019 and to 989 in 2021.

Overall, the report showed that the number of general practice clinical staff who are not GPs or nurses could nearly double by 2030 if current trends remain consistent, while the GP shortfall is expected to more than double.

To make up the shortfall, in line with current policy action focused on PCNs and the ARRS scheme, the number of direct-patient care (DPC) staff (excluding GPs and practice nurses) could grow from around 25,400 FTE in 2021/22 to 55,300.

The Health Foundation projections also set out an ‘optimistic’ scenario where DPC staff could grow to 72,000 in the same time period if ‘additional policy action facilitates increased use of a bigger and broader general practice workforce team’.

But it warned that if the PCN and ARRS initiatives fail to realise their potential, with no further workforce measures put in place beyond 2023/24, the number of DPC staff could reach only 40,000 by the end of the decade.

This ‘pessimistic’ scenario would also see the Government fail to deliver on its manifesto pledge to hire 26,000 additional general practice staff by 2023/34.

The projections anticipate that the Government will also fail in all three scenarios to deliver on its pledge to deploy 6,000 GPs by 2023/34.

The Health Foundation said its projections ‘highlight the inherent uncertainty’ in how DPC staff numbers will grow beyond 2023/24, given ‘the current lack of integrated workforce planning across general practice’.

It warned that its worst-case scenario would see the ongoing policy push towards multidisciplinary general practice teams falter after this point, with newer ARRS-funded recruits ineffectively embedded in their team, leading to increased staff turnover and vacancy rates overall.

Practices and PCNs ‘need support to manage organisational and team working changes’ as they become more multidisciplinary, it said, including more effective supervision and greater clarity on non-clinical work staff are expected to take up.

The Health Foundation said: ‘Overall, our report lays bare the scale of the challenge facing policymakers in addressing endemic NHS workforce shortages. Although there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to England’s workforce shortages, this report adds to a growing body of evidence signalling the need for a comprehensive, fully funded and long-term workforce strategy.’

This comes after the Company Chemists’ Association said this week that primary care network recruitment is exacerbating the community pharmacy workforce crisis. 

A version of this article was originally published in our sister publication Pulse.