Why did the Ministry of the Interior add pharmacists to the list of shortage professions?

Whether or not there is a shortage of pharmacists is a debate that has raged in the sector over the past year – with some saying there is a worrying shortage of pharmacists, while others argue that the registry has never been so full.

Adding fuel to the dispute, the Home office accepted recommendations from the Migration and Advisory Committee (MAC) to add pharmacist roles to the list of shortage occupations (SOL) in March last year.

However, some locum pharmacists and the Pharmacists’ Defense Association (PDA) have questioned whether pharmacists should be on the list.

PDA Director Paul Day wrote in C+D Great Debate on the issue last year: “Although the government [was] persuaded to return the “pharmacist” to SOL, and that some community pharmacy branches are temporarily closing with the business/entrepreneur claiming this is due to a shortage of pharmacists, it would be naive to take this as evidence that there is in fact a real shortage of pharmacists. »

This hotly contested debate is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as C+D understands that the SOL will be reviewed later this year and that pharmacists will be affected by the upcoming MAC review of professions facing shortages.

With this in mind, C+D has asked the Home Office and MAC to shed some light on the decision to add pharmacists to the SOL. Here’s what we discovered.

Ministers have final say, but MAC review carries weight

Home Office ministers ultimately decide which professions should be added to SOL, includes C+D. But they appreciate the findings shared with government by the MAC.

In 2020, even before pharmacists were added to the SOL, the Home Office introduced the Health and Care Visa – part of the Skilled Worker Visa. This visa offers healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, “fast-track entry, reduced visa fees and dedicated support to come to the UK with their families,” the government wrote in its statement. advice.

While pharmacists are both on the SOL and eligible for the Health and Care Visa, “businesses need to make long-term investments in the UK national workforce, including offering improved pay and conditions to attract and retain staff,” a Home Office spokesperson told C+D

MAC: quantitative and empirical data are analyzed

When the MAC assesses whether a profession should be recommended for addition to the SOL, it “always” considers both the “quantitative data available and the evidence provided by stakeholders to determine whether immigration can be an effective and appropriate response.” to the shortage of jobs in the economy,” MAC President Professor Brian Bell told C+D.

A spokesperson for the MAC went on to explain that the purpose of these reviews is to determine which professions are experiencing a shortage. This could be because employers are struggling to find enough applicants with the right skills or the MAC might deem migration appropriate to fill a shortage, they explained.

The committee examines nine quantitative indicators – including salaries, vacancies and employment – ​​to help it make a decision.

It then considers whether adding a profession to the list would solve the shortage – what it calls a ‘reasonable test’. It is at this stage that the committee examines the testimony received by stakeholders in the sector.

Stakeholder testimonials

Only two pharmacy stakeholders responded to the MAC’s call for evidence in 2020. The panel told C+D it was not free to share who they were, as it argued they should be able to share their views with the committee without being named.

In addition to evidence from both stakeholders, the MAC said it also received a joint submission from NHS employers. Additionally, the committee held meetings with several representative bodies, he told C+D.

While its 2020 call for testimonials may not have been very successful, the MAC welcomes testimonials from anyone who wants to submit it for its next review, he told C+D, adding that he also receives requests for deletion of certain professions. from the list.

However, the committee reviews hundreds of nominations, so it’s “impossible” to proactively review every one of them, he told C+D.

COVID-19 has been a factor

In the end, COVID-19 was the deciding factor that tipped the scales in favor of adding pharmacists to the list.

The MAC conducted its 2020 SOL review “at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told C+D. He was ‘convinced’ during his review that ‘pharmacists had an important role to play and their addition to SOL was a sensible response,’ Prof Bell added.

In its review, the committee agreed that while it could not demonstrate a shortage of pharmacists in 2019, the situation changed in 2020 – when pharmacists were on the front line fighting COVID-19 and were “considered a profession at high risk” due to their exposure to the virus.

Pharmacists were facing increasing pandemic-related pressures at the time of the review, which could have short- and long-term implications for pharmacy staff, the committee said.

The MAC was cautious in its approach and, in the context of the global pandemic, decided to favor the addition of health professions to the SOL where there was evidence indicating a shortage.

With the possibility of another SOL review on the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether pharmacists make it onto the revised list and what effect this decision – whatever the outcome – will have on the sector in the long term.

Catch up with the last great C+D debate, which asked: Is there a shortage of community pharmacists?

Michael A. Bynum