The chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee warned against community pharmacists with prescribing qualifications leaving the sector due to a lack of opportunity to use their clinical skills.

In a video message to delegates at the 2023 Sigma Conference, former pharmacy minister Steve Brine acknowledged the difficulties the community pharmacy sector was facing, including workforce issues.

For instance, he said that pharmacists who have prescribing qualifications ‘currently lack opportunities to utilise these skills in a community sector’, leading them to leave community pharmacy in favour of a setting that would allow them to use their prescribing skills.

‘We mustn’t let this happen’, Mr Brine said.

He said that in its final report on workforce, the health and social care committee concluded that ‘there was a great opportunity to better utilise the pharmacy workforce and in doing so, to optimise the workloads across primary care, reduce pressure on general practice and hospitals and support the new integrated care systems.’

He also said that the report had noted that this optimization would not be possible without an integrated and funded workforce plan and access for all pharmacists to supervision, training, protected learning time and clear structures for professional career development.

Mr Brine said that the committee was currently awaiting the government response to its recommendations but hoped ‘that will come very very soon’.

 ‘Bright future’ for community pharmacy if funded properly

The former pharmacy minister told delegates that his recent call for evidence into preventing ill health had nearly 600 responses in the first three weeks – many of which highlighted the role of community pharmacy, particularly around obesity, smoking and alcohol use.

Community pharmacy offers ‘so many inspiring, innovative examples of the potential of pharmacy to change the health and social care workforce’, he added.

He said that submissions to the inquiry had called for more recognition of the importance of community pharmacy to the NHS, as well as for pharmacists to be able to make more referrals and be more integrated into other services like social care and housing.

And several submissions had highlighted the potential for Pharmacy First to reduce pressure on GPs.

‘My committee hasn't yet decided which of the hundreds of inquiry proposals related to prevention is going to take forward into the inquiry’, he said, but added that the ‘strong interest in community pharmacy in so many of the submissions we received is I think an indication of the vital importance of this sector when it comes to prevention’.

If funded properly by the government, community pharmacy has a ‘very bright future’, he said.

He added that the suggestions from the prevention inquiry relating to community pharmacy would also feed into another inquiry focusing specifically on community pharmacy later in 2023.