A surge in recruitment for roles other than doctors in GP practices has left one in three chemists without a permanent pharmacist.
Pharmacy bosses said that there was now a “chronic shortage” of pharmacists in both community and hospital chemists.
The exodus of staff threatens to derail NHS recovery plans to use pharmacies to deliver traditional GP tasks such as blood pressure checks and the treatment of common conditions and infections, as well as the provision of contraceptive medication.
Under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), NHS England has given GP partners £890 million this year alone in ring-fenced money to hire pharmacists, physician associates, podiatrists and other non-medics.
The incentive has led to pharmacists leaving their existing roles as an “unintended consequence”, Malcolm Harrison, the chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, told the health select committee on Tuesday.
Jay Badenhorst, the vice-chairman of the National Pharmacy Association, told MPs: “We are currently running about a third of our pharmacies without a permanent pharmacist. That has a massive impact on continuation of care.”
Almost half of the ARRS funding is being spent on clinical pharmacists, Neil O’Brien, the MP for Harborough and a former health minister, recently revealed.
Dr Graham Stretch, the president of the Primary Care Pharmacy Association, said that 4,689 pharmacists were “being supported by ARRS”, and so have been recruited by GP practices, including more than 3,000 from the community sector.
Mr Harrison said that the NHS had “robbed Peter to pay Paul”.
He said: “The NHS and government found a lot of money and created a lot more roles for pharmacists in general practice.
“The problem is there wasn’t a good understanding of the availability of pharmacists.
“They created up to 8,000 news positions out there, but there weren’t extra pharmacists in community pharmacies. There weren’t pharmacists sitting at home thinking: ‘I need to do some work, please can someone find a job for me?’”
He said that there was now a “chronic shortage” that was “driving up the cost”, with some pharmacists returning on a locum basis.
“We’re actually seeing people leave primary care because they can earn more money as locum working in pharmacies,” he added. “So we’ve just increased the cost to the taxpayer.”
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said that sector leaders were “never consulted” on the plan.
The pharmacy leaders called for a more joined-up approach to where pharmacists work, rather than the existing ring-fenced funding for GPs.
Dr Stretch said: “Primary care networks should be exactly that. They should be networks of the whole of primary care so it isn’t about whether this person sits with ARRS staff.
“We need to ensure pharmacy is part of that. The best way of delivering services is as close to the patient as possible and I recognise community pharmacies as being a place to do that.”