The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has warned of a ‘growing disconnect’ between ‘demanding’ targets for pharmacy services and the reality of workforce pressures on the sector.

Yesterday, NHS England (NHSE) announced intentions to ‘grow patient volumes’ across pharmacy services over the next year.

By March 2025, NHSE wants the community pharmacy sector to deliver 320,000 more Pharmacy First clinical pathways consultations each month; 71,000 more blood pressure check consultations each month; and 25,800 more oral contraception consultations each month.

In response, the PDA said that ‘quality must not be sacrificed for volume alone’.

Alison Jones, policy director at the PDA, told The Pharmacist that the association was worried there was a ‘growing disconnect’ between ‘an NHS pushing to deliver demanding workforce and recovery plans and achieve government targets’, and the reality of community pharmacy’s workforce pressures.

‘Many employers are saying they can’t afford to pay the minimum wage and may lay staff off instead,’ Ms Jones said.

She added that some pharmacists were also already reporting that targets and performance league tables are appearing in their organisations in relation to Pharmacy First, but there were no extra staff in place ‘to deal with the increased workload which it brings’.

With NHSE ‘saying they expect even more output from pharmacy teams’, Ms Jones said that as commissioner of these services, NHSE ‘must ensure that those delivering them are appropriately competent, resourced and able to do so’.

‘Something is going to give eventually, and it must not be patient safety nor pharmacist wellbeing,’ she added.

At a recent meeting between pharmacy multiple Boots UK and the PDA Union Joint Consultative Committee, PDA representatives raised concerns that publishing performance reports [for Pharmacy First consultations] was impacting pharmacists' mental health.

In response, Mo Hassam, director of Boots Stores South-East, said in a joint statement that reporting was 'useful to see spikes [in demand] and identify any additional resources needed', but added that 'reporting must be appropriate'.

The statement added: 'Any pressure being placed on pharmacists to hit targets should be raised.'

NPA: 'Amazing capacity of pharmacies to make a difference'

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said the NHS's ambition for consultation numbers 'show the amazing capacity of pharmacies to make a huge difference to people’s lives and truly become the front door to the NHS, despite a broken contract and funding model.'

He added: 'Already, dedicated community pharmacists and their teams are doing amazing things under very difficult conditions – a backdrop of crippling real terms funding cuts, with many pharmacies heading for a cliff edge.

'These figures show how pharmacies can transform care, but the truth is that they are labouring under a broken contract that is threatening the very services that can make a difference. We urgently need a new deal to restore the health of community pharmacies – with pharmacies receiving 2.5% of the NHS budget – to stop the wave of closures and unleash their potential to make a vast difference to communities.'