Community pharmacy employers must ensure that they are training enough pharmacists to meet the needs of the sector, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England has said.

Speaking via video message to delegates attending the 2023 Sigma Conference, David Webb said that pharmacy employers must ensure that it is training enough pharmacists to meet own needs, by providing placements for trainees, and offering attractive enough careers to retain them.

He said: ‘We are at a significant junction for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in the NHS’, saying that the future of community pharmacy would be shaped by its ability to contribute to the NHS as a whole.

Community pharmacy has been experiencing workforce shortages, with locum rates increasing, and high numbers of pharmacists moving to roles in general practice.

Mr Webb told the conference that the forthcoming move of pharmacy commissioning responsibilities to Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) held the potential for local partnerships to develop integrated services.

He suggested that this would require community pharmacy teams need to collaborate with each other and as well as local primary care teams.

He also said that community pharmacies would be able to take a lead in developing patient care at a place and neighbourhood level, as this would require an understanding of the local populations.

A key priority for ICBs will be addressing health inequalities, he said. Mr Webb added that this was already part of the Year 5 Pharmacy Quality Scheme, and that community pharmacies will have the opportunity to work with their local primary care network to develop an action plan to support the prevention of ill health and address inequalities.

But Sigma's Hatul Shah, who was chairing the Sigma conference session, said that pharmacies needed investment in order to upskill their workforces and develop services.

He said that despite the adulations the sector had received from the government during the pandemic, the ‘funding austerity’ leading to pharmacy closures had continued.

He said that the estimated 1m prescriptions available to independents after the closure of multiples and supermarkets could be seen as good news for independent contractors, ‘but the switching will depend on the local independents surviving to take on the extra load’ and coping with the impact of inflation, staffing challenges and high locum rates.

He suggested that pharmacists were probably ‘victims of our own dedication’, continuing to ‘hang on’ in order to deliver quality patient services.

However, he said that were still some opportunities for community pharmacies to grasp and maximise opportunities.

‘But we will need investment to upskill and invest in premises and services,’ he told delegates . He said that the appetite for this was already there, in terms of Pharmacy First proposals, but it needed ‘more dedication’.

He said that community pharmacy needed to be' solutions focused' and ‘show the government what we are capable of collectively’.