Hundreds of community pharmacists report fears that the service will become unsafe if immediate workforce and funding pressures are not addressed.
A survey of community pharmacists in Northern Ireland has identified a huge shortfall in their numbers and real concerns about the ability to maintain safe services for patients.
Serious underfunding and a lack of workforce planning by the Department of Health has directly impacted on the sector and is now threatening the safe delivery of crucial frontline services for patients, the representative body has said.
In the largest survey undertaken by Community Pharmacy NI (the professional membership body for all community pharmacies) in May and June this year, responses were received from over 77% of community pharmacies in Northern Ireland – representing 409 pharmacies out of a total of 532.
The survey results highlight that:
It is estimated that almost 400 pharmacists have left the network in the past two years
The NI community pharmacy network is now operating with an estimated deficit of 320 pharmacists
94% of contractors report difficulties sourcing locums
44% of pharmacists who left in the last two years have left to work in GP practices
The survey further highlighted that:
83% of community pharmacies have lost pharmacists
70% of contractors have been unable to fill advertised workforce roles
90% of contractors are either very or extremely worried about their future workforce
The Department has, just this week, announced an investment of £26.76 million in Northern Ireland’s GP services for 2019/20. Community pharmacists are shocked that £2.19 million will be made available this year to continue the roll-out of the Practice Based Pharmacist scheme. This will exacerbate the community pharmacy workforce crisis.
In response to the news, Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:
“The findings in the CPNI workforce report are damning but what I find even more worrying is the Department’s willingness to continue the roll-out of the Practice Based Pharmacist scheme when we have asked that it should be deferred until the community pharmacy workforce crisis is resolved. Obviously, any new money for the health service is good news and nearly £27 million is a significant investment, but the Department must urgently make the same investment in community pharmacy to stabilise the sector and to ensure that safe services can continue to be provided for patients.
Mr Greene continued:
“We have been calling on the Department for a number of years to rectify critical funding issues in our network and this latest view of our workforce shows that if the Department continues to bury its head in the sand, then the service will simply become unsafe.
“Issues with chronic underfunding and pharmacists not getting fully reimbursed for the medicines they are dispensing have culminated in the most severe and critical period ever faced by our sector. This has been compounded by an investment from the Department of over £13 million into the Practice Based Pharmacist scheme resulting in the movement of over 175 pharmacists from community pharmacy into GP practices. The public will now start to see the devastating impact this will have on the service that they have come to rely on from their local pharmacy.
“Community pharmacists are a crucial frontline service, helping 123,000 people in Northern Ireland every day. If we undermine the ability of the network to carry out this service, then we are removing access to healthcare for thousands of people and diverting them towards already over-burdened GP practices and hospitals.”
James McCaughan, Vice-Chairman of CPNI called on the Department to act immediately, saying:
“We understand there is pressure right across the health and social care sector, however community pharmacy is essential in reducing the need for unnecessary visits to GP practices, out-of-hours services and hospitals.
“We know that the Department is reviewing our workforce and is aware of the pressures that are mounting. It is time the Department acted to reverse the huge damage that is being done to the network.
“If we don’t invest properly in community-based services, then we are not going to achieve the transformation in healthcare that is now essential. Community pharmacy should feature heavily in the transformation of health and social care that we are told is urgently needed in Northern Ireland for our health service to be sustainable.
“Community Pharmacists are ready and willing to throw our weight behind the transformation, but to do so we require proper funding and resources.
The Department of Health is in the process of carrying out its own workforce review of the entire pharmacy profession in Northern Ireland and initial findings indicate that the situation is significantly worse in the community pharmacy sector compared to Trust and GP sectors.