Clinical directors have been urged spend additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) funding in the final year of the current contract or risk losing it.

Speaking at the Pulse PCN event in London last week, Dr Richard Vautrey, clinical director of Central North Leeds PCN, said that while the details of the PCN contract beyond 2024 are unknown, the focus for the final year should be on spending ARRS money.

‘The key is trying to maximise the ARRS funding in this final year. Do all you can to recruit and to use that funding because once it’s embedded into the system then I think that will then be retained but then if you don’t spend it, it will get lost and there’s a real risk that we actually lose that funding from the GMS envelope beyond 2024,’ said Dr Vautrey, who is also assistant secretary of Leeds LMC and former chair of the BMA general practitioner’s committee.

The funding for ARRS is set to increase to £1.4bn in 2023/24 and ARRS-recruited staff will be treated as part of the core general practice cost base beyond 2023/24.

26,000 additional roles within Primary Care Networks (PCNs) have been created under ARRS, including over 1000 clinical pharmacists based in general practice, as well as pharmacy technicians, whose roles are 70% funded by ARRS.

The number of clinical pharmacists working in general practice in England has tripled since 2019, when ARRS was introduced, according to recent figures.

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.

Dr Vautrey said that he thought that the funding within the Network DES contract beyond 2024 would remain the same.

‘The reality is there is no new money coming over the hill and there isn’t a will to make massive changes before the election so my hunch is you’ll be expected to do the best you can with the limited resources you’ve got and I suspect the best we can hope for is the status quo.

‘I suspect, the back stop is whatever funding is in the contract in 2024 will be in the contract for 2025. I don’t think they would pull the rug because they know that to do so would remove all of the staff that are currently in the system. Someone is going to have to pay for that staff so I think you can be pretty certain the staff will remain the funding will remain to pay for those staff. Whether it gets inflated sufficiently enough beyond 2024 is another matter,’ he said.

Pharmacists were the most recruited role under ARRS in the first half of 2022.

Recruitment of pharmacists into primary care has been criticised as exacerbating community pharmacy workforce crisis.

Deputy CPhO Bruce Warner has suggested that with the introduction of more widespread independent prescribing, pharmacists will be more likely to have ‘portfolio careers’ across general practice and community pharmacy, while NAPC president Ash Soni said that practice pharmacists could create better collaboration with community pharmacy.

However, recent analysis by The King's Fund found that pharmacists recruited into PCNs were experiencing confusion over the purpose of their roles as many are not being integrated into primary care teams properly. 

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.