Pharmacists need to be trained to help manage the growing burden of chronic disease to shift the burden from doctors, a new report has found.

Reshaping the workforce to deliver the care patients need, published by the Nuffield Trust health think-tank, argues that equipping NHS staff with additional skills is the best way to develop the capacity of the health service workforce.

The move is vital to enable to the NHS to cope with changed patient demand in the future, the report found, and has been welcomed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

RPS English Board chair, Sandra Gidley, said: “This report seizes on what we’ve advocated for a long time – that the skills, knowledge and training that pharmacists and other NHS staff have must be better utilised to create better care for patients.

“Pharmacists can help manage the growing burden of chronic disease and bridge some of the workforce gaps in primary care.

“This is clearly evidenced every day by the excellent work community pharmacists do to support patients and by those taking on new roles in GP surgeries and care homes.

“What’s vital is that the right professional does the right job, and pharmacists should be involved whenever medicines are involved in patient care.”

However, expanding the skills of the non-medical workforce in this way also presents big organisational challenges for NHS Trusts, and will not be easy to achieve in the current financial context, the study warns.

Candace Imison, report author and Nuffield Trust director of policy, said:

“Our research shows that reshaping the NHS workforce can offer huge opportunities – for patients, through improved health outcomes, and for staff, through more rewarding roles and better career pathways.

“But we stress in our report that this is not simply a ‘nice to do’ – it is urgent, and essential if the Health Service is to find a sustainable balance between available funding, patient needs and staff needs, and deliver services fit for the 21st century.”

The authors point out that there are three routes to workforce change including producing larger numbers of the same types of staff, developing the skills of the existing workforce and producing new types of workers.

They suggest extending the skills of registered healthcare professionals, such as nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and paramedics, to provide opportunities to manage the growing burden of chronic disease more effectively.

The authors say there is some evidence that these new ways of working could release some savings and help bridge the workforce gaps that are forecast, particularly in primary care.

Gidley said: “The future for all pharmacists lies in greater integration with the primary care team, something we have all wanted for so long, in whatever setting it takes place.

“The traditional roles of all health professionals are changing to meet the needs of patients and pharmacists are among the pioneers here.”

Daniel Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “As the voice of workforce leaders in the NHS, NHS Employers commissioned the Nuffield Trust to have a thorough look at where we are in terms of workforce development, drawing on the already strong practice across the NHS.

“I am delighted with the final report, which explores where we can further develop our workforce to get the greatest benefit for patients and clients.

“Our challenge now is to take forward the learning and recommendations in the report.”