Primary care network (PCN) recruitment is exacerbating the community pharmacy workforce crisis, according to the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).

The health and social care committee’s panel of independent experts yesterday concluded that the Government’s progress on commitments around the health and social care workforce in England was ‘inadequate’ in an evaluation of its efforts.

The CCA told the report authors that recruitment through the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) had ‘unintended consequences’ of drawing from existing staff pools.

The ARRS aims to recruit six full-time equivalent clinical pharmacists per PCN, which equates to approximately 6,000 to 7,500 pharmacists. However, the CCA warned that this ambition had not been ‘matched by corresponding efforts to train more pharmacists’.

ARRS was introduced to help fund 26,000 more primary care professionals – which the Government has said it is ‘on track’ to deliver by 2024 - and enable PCNs to recruit to roles such as clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, physician associates and paramedics.

The report concluded that, according to many stakeholders the panel heard from, the lack of workforce planning by the Government was having a negative impact on recruitment and retention.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, chair of the expert panel, said they ‘could not give’ the Government a rating higher than “inadequate” on its workforce target progress. She added: ‘We were unable to rate progress on any of the individual commitments we evaluated as good.’

Vacancy rates for community pharmacists have doubled in five years, figures from Health Education England found in January this year, with the National Pharmacy Association’s director of corporate affairs highlighting a ‘continued drain of pharmacy staff into GP surgeries’ at the time.

Meanwhile, a report by the King’s Fund identified a range of problems with the ARRS, including a lack of understanding from pharmacy staff about their purpose in PCNs with many not being integrated into primary care teams properly.

PCNs have been advised to ‘grow their own’ ARRS staff to help address recruitment challenges.

NHS Digital figures indicated that as many as 4,871 pharmacists were working in PCNs in England as of March this year, up by more than 500 since September, indicating that pharmacists were the most recruited role by PCNs via the ARRS over the last six months.