PCNs have hired more pharmacists via the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS) over the last six months than any other role, new data has shown.

New NHS Digital figures indicate that as many as 4,871 pharmacists are working in PCNs in England as of March this year, up by more than 500 since September.

According to the NHS Digital figures – which are based on data submitted by 84% of PCNs – 16,780 staff have been hired into ARRS roles and are working in general practice.

The dataset indicated that pharmacists were the most recruited role by PCNs followed by care coordinators, social prescribers with 2,527 hired, and pharmacy technicians at 1,364.

It also showed there are only 98 dieticians and just 38 podiatrists working in PCNs.

On its publication, the Government cited the data in claiming it is ‘on track’ to deliver its manifesto commitment of 26,000 more primary care staff by 2024.

However, the 18,200 figure it gave includes around 1,400 staff who were not employed under the ARRS, despite the scheme standing as the structure for meeting the target.

Dr Samira Anane, BMA GP committee workforce policy lead, said that despite the increase in ARRS staff, the ‘real test must be in what difference this is making for practices’ in managing demand.

She said: ‘Focusing on an overall increase, rather than on accurately capturing the work done by GPs and their teams in a consistent way, tells us very little about what’s happening in practices.

‘While a wider practice team made up of a range of professionals can be really valuable, we also know that many PCNs are struggling to recruit and are frustrated by the bureaucracy and inflexibility of the ARRS scheme, meaning the right staff are not necessarily reaching the communities that need them most.’

Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said there must be ‘greater acceptance’ that there are ‘simply not enough staff’ in primary care, and said the lack of a workforce is ‘striking’.

Meanwhile, analysis by the King's Fund found pharmacists recruited into primary care networks (PCNs) are experiencing confusion over the purpose of  their  roles as many are not being integrated into primary care teams properly.

A version of this article was originally published on The Pharmacist's sister publication Healthcare Leader.