Under the additional roles recruitment scheme (ARRS), PCNs have been supported to recruit a clinical pharmacist during 2019/20 and will be reimbursed 70% of the total salary by NHS England.
However, PCN leaders have argued that pay grades are too low and will leave networks unable to compete with other employers, who can offer more attractive rates.
They say networks are struggling to recruit clinical pharmacists and could miss out altogether on funding aimed at boosting the primary care workforce. Practices in some areas struggling to recruit have been forced to dip into their own pockets and pay more than the basic 30% to avoid missing out.
Pharmacist recruitment lead at award-winning East Cornwall PCN Mark Stone has suggested that wages could be as much as £7,000 below the level networks need to attract candidates of an appropriate level. He says salary bands should raised closer to the level of an advanced practitioner.
Mr Stone, who is a pharmacist partner at Tamar Valley Health in Cornwall, also revealed that his network had chosen to subsidise wages in order to bring in a new pharmacist.
He called for a review of the recruitment scheme to increase flexibility - ensuring that PCNs don’t miss out on NHS England funding.
Speaking to GPonline, Mr Stone said: ‘I think that everyone will be going out to recruit clinical pharmacists but, because of the wages, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get them in… [PCNs] are just not going to be able to offer a wage that will compete with those on offer from secondary care, community pharmacies and other organisations.
‘And that’s why I feel that the funding won’t be spent because PCNs won’t be able to attract the people needed to benefit patients’ health.
‘I'd be perfectly happy to place a bet that, of the additional roles money for the year 2019/20, approximately 25% to 40% will be spent.’
Mr Stone explained that part of the problem was that PCNs, ideally, needed to hire experienced pharmacists, who would be able to cope with the variety of situations experienced in generla practice. But he said NHSE bands were currently too low and did not reflect the level of candidate needed.
At present, networks can hire clinical pharmacists working at bands 7-8A and can offer them a maximum basic salary £43,046 of which they can claim back £37,810 from NHS England.
However, Mr Stone argued that NHSE needed to change the band to a mid-range 8B salary, which would be closer to the £45-50k mark. This means that PCNs are potentially offering wages that are £7K short.
Clinical director of Newham PCN Dr Farzana Hussain revealed that her network and others in the area had struggled to recruit clinical pharmacists, saying low wages were mainly to blame.
Although her PCN has now recruited a pharmacist, she said it might not have been possible without the help of her federation and shared concerns that some networks could fail to make use of funding.
‘We wanted to do it as a network, so we could do it a little bit cheaper, but we couldn't find anybody and it was mainly because of the pay rate. So we went to the federation and even they had to do two recruitment rounds.
'We [had a number of] applicants but the federation said some declined because they had been offered jobs which had higher pay.’
‘My big concern is that networks will miss this opportunity and the sad thing is that the funding will be pulled and we'll be in no better place - the workforce crisis will get worse.’
While Dr Hussain said her PCN had refused to subsidise wages to attract pharmacists, Mr Stone admitted that his network had topped up wages to recruit a lead pharmacist.
However, he said this was something he would not do across the board and said practices were ‘cash-strapped’ enough without having to reach into their own pockets to recruit to additional roles.
Mr Stone urged NHS England to make the recruitment scheme more flexible. Last month, GP leaders warned that PCNs could miss out on a huge proportion of their funding because of a lack of flexibility in the network DES contract.