New figures from Health Education England (HEE) show that the pharmacist vacancy rate in community pharmacies across England has doubled to 8% between 2017 and 2021.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) notes that this is further evidence of the need for better funding to boost recruitment and retain staff.

Community pharmacies have played an instrumental role in the UK’s vaccine drive and have delivered over five million vaccinations–just a year on from the first COVID-19 vaccination at a high street pharmacy. Local pharmacies are trusted by their communities and have been a hallmark of guidance and reassurance during a time of great national unease.

Now, more than ever, pharmacies are pivotal in the delivery of booster vaccines–millions of people across England are able to walk into their local pharmacy to receive their jab or book an appointment. With the growing threat of high staff turnover and vacancy rates, however, the booster vaccine rollout could face a crisis.

NPA director of corporate affairs, Gareth Jones, said: “While the relatively low response rate to the 2021 survey means we should be cautious about reading too much into the data, they are consistent with what we hear all the time from pharmacies struggling to recruit pharmacists and maintain services.

“It’s a complicated picture, with the pressures of the pandemic overlaying the dire funding situation and a continued drain of pharmacy staff into GP surgeries. We continue to work with NHS England, HEE and other pharmacy bodies to seek solutions that will help in the short, medium and long term.”

Jones added: “One practical step would be a requirement that local impact assessments are carried out prior to any recruitment into PCNs/CCG sites under the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS). PCNs and CCGs should, in association with local representative bodies, consider the impact of the creation of new roles on all health care providers in the area and on their ability to deliver their objectives on behalf of the NHS.”