The pharmacy workforce: it’s more than just the numbers

david-banford(1)David Branford, English Pharmacy Board Chair

For most of my career there has been a shortage of pharmacists. Having a career that always provided a job has been a real luxury. It looks like that luxury is about to end.

When the labour government announced that it was to expand the educational opportunities in a whole variety of health care professions it was generally welcomed. They had done their crystal ball gazing and realised that with an aging population and increased longevity the need for all types of healthcare professional would be greater. Within the profession we also realised that the development of clinical pharmacy and ever increased complexity of medicines resulted in a far greater need for pharmacy staff – not just pharmacists but also technicians and other support staff. In my own particular specialty of mental health, the number of pharmacists employed has increased hugely just within the last 15 years and there are still many places we could use more. A similar expansion was occurring in the primary care organisations and in community pharmacy with 100 hour pharmacies. It seemed like the need for pharmacists was never ending.

So what has gone wrong? Why are we suddenly at a point where the number of students studying pharmacy will soon exceed the job opportunities? Our member survey late last year told us that the pharmacy workforce was at the top of member concerns. Clearly there is a widespread anxiety about the future of the profession that we need to address. Sometimes that anxiety has increased to needless panic, driven by misinformation and hyperbole. It was clear that we needed to sort fact from fiction and really clarify our situation. We responded by hosting the Pharmacy Workforce Summit in February to get the key players in a room and get a handle on the issues. An action plan was formed that you can see here on the Workforce Hub. Its important that every pharmacist who has concerns about the future of the pharmacy workforce visits the hub, gets acquainted with the facts, with the options and the action plan, and then share their informed opinion and ideas with our workforce experts and each other.

The pharmacy profession may well be just one player in this crowded and complicated playing field, but if we work together to represent our interests in an informed, united and organised way, we can make sure our numbers add up to a constructive solution.

Click to see the The Future Pharmacy Workforce Hub