The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) pharmacists working in Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in England increased by 177% in September 2021, compared to the same month in the previous year, data from NHS Digital shows.

In its quarterly report, published yesterday (18 September), NHS Digital said that 2,626 pharmacists were working in PCNs, which amounted to 1,679 more pharmacists than in September 2020.

The data also revealed that the number of PCN pharmacy technicians rose by almost six times between September 2020 and September 2021, from 95 to 562.

However, authors of the data report said that this month's figures could be inflated due to the way PCNs have been recording their data.

‘Guidance has since been issued directly to PCNs to explain this process and it is expected that this will result in more accurate contracted services information being submitted for the December 2021 collection,’ they said.

The Company Chemists’ Association has previously predicted that NHS PCNs are planning to recruit 6,000 pharmacists by 2024, which means they are already almost halfway (44%) to their target.

PCNs have been able to claim funding from NHS England to hire pharmacists as part of their national contract since July 2019.

On Tuesday (16 November), the CCA voiced concerns on the pharmacist workforce crisis, due to the Covid crisis, and also the NHS recruitment drive moving community pharmacists into PCNs.

The CCA said: ‘The effects of this recruitment drive have begun to bite in community pharmacies. In recent months many pharmacies have been unable to find a pharmacist during times of higher demand.

‘Without a pharmacist on site, pharmacies cannot supply medicines prescribed by the NHS, provide services such as the flu jab, or give valuable advice. The shortage of pharmacists has also led to rapidly escalating employment costs which are impacting the viability of pharmacies in some areas.’

They added: ‘The Government’s current approach represents a short-sighted attempt to address GP pressures without regard to replenishing pharmacists in other parts of the primary care system, such as community pharmacy.’

In March, pharmacists were included in the Government’s shortage occupation, owing to evidence of ‘a national shortage in this occupation due to a decline in the number of pharmacy graduates and increasing demand for their services’.

Meanwhile, in August, Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) called on NHS Scotland to temporarily stop recruiting community pharmacists and community pharmacy technicians into GP primary care support roles or else face ‘unnecessary’ workforce strain in other areas of pharmacy.

This came after NHS Scotland published its NHS Recovery Plan (25 August), in which it detailed plans to recruit more pharmacists into general practice.