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Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The stark call from Community Pharmacy Scotland to temporarily halt the recruitment of the pharmacy workforce to GP primary care support roles is a reminder that Government policy decisions taken with the best of intentions do not always survive the stress test of everyday reality.

Of course, we need pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in every part of the NHS. This includes community pharmacies, GP surgeries, hospitals and elsewhere too.

This year, more than any other has demonstrated the critical role of pharmacy at every level. I want to see more career progression opportunities for pharmacy colleagues which could involve a blend of time spent in community, GP surgery and hospital settings.

However, the shift from where we are now to where we need to be, has to be planned carefully otherwise we end up with different parts of the NHS competing to recruit scarce people resources.

That is a zero-sum game that adds nothing to improving patient care.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a sensible healthcare strategy, especially when UK PLC is under extreme pressure in many sectors.

In England, the situation is similar.

There are now over 2,200 pharmacy full-time equivalent posts in primary care networks. There is nothing in principle wrong with that, but the reality is those qualified professionals will have been mainly drawn from community pharmacy at a time when their frontline role is needed most. The move towards ICSs is only likely to increase that demand and put further pressure on an already overstretched and under-funded network.

We need patient-centric integrated healthcare provision. Planning for that must take account of the workforce needs of community pharmacy in the frontline: needed, valued, respected by the public.

Steve Anderson is an Executive Board member of operations and logistics at the Pheonix Group.

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