The Future of the Pharmacy Workforce

We are aware of increasing concerns about the availability and capacity of the pharmacist workforce in patient-facing roles within Ireland.

As the pharmacy regulator, the PSI is not involved in the recruitment of pharmacists. However, through our Corporate Strategy 2021-2024 and our Service Plan for 2022, we have made a strategic commitment to examining the issues facing the professional workforce to ensure pharmacy can continue to meet the health and safety needs of the public and fulfil its role in the development of an integrated and ever expanding health service.

Availability and capacity issues are not unique to pharmacy, with workforce challenges being experienced across health professionals and health systems in Ireland and abroad. This is a complex issue with many contributing factors and multiple stakeholders. Meanwhile, the PSI is dedicated to ensuring pharmacy will be able to fulfil the increased demands of the health service and the public.

Emerging Risks to the Future Pharmacy Workforce Project

In 2022, PSI commenced the strategic project Emerging Risks to the Future Pharmacy Workforce to establish a baseline view of the key challenges and opportunities associated with both the community and hospital pharmacist workforce. A Working Group was established in support of the project. It comprised of stakeholders with a multidisciplinary background from across the healthcare spectrum. External consultants, Grant Thornton, were also commissioned to assist with the project alongside a dedicated PSI project team.

The project consisted of a literature review, workforce survey and focus groups.

Workforce Survey (2022)

The survey was open from 23 November to 18 December 2022 and was sent to all PSI-registered pharmacists and 5th-year pharmacy students. As the first workforce survey of this kind for pharmacy in Ireland, the survey had five objectives:

  1. Capture opinions from current and future pharmacists in a way that actionable outputs could be generated
  2. Identify and understand critical motivating and demotivating factors among the profession
  3. Gain a greater understanding about the composition of the pharmacy workforce
  4. Objectively validate opinions regarding the underlying causes of the perceived current pharmacy workforce challenges
  5. Aim to understand why there is a perceived shortage of pharmacists in patient-facing roles, despite a steady year-on-year increase in the number of pharmacists registered with the PSI

The design of this survey was undertaken by the PSI together with the appointed project consultants, Grant Thornton, and informed by engagement with external stakeholders, research, and with reference to other national and international health professional workforce surveys.

Focus Groups

To further understand challenges facing pharmacy, focus groups were held in January 2023 with practising pharmacists from a variety of roles, and both fourth- and fifth-year pharmacy students, who participated following an expression of interest process. The focus group discussions mirrored findings in the survey around administrative and regulatory burdens, need for advocacy within the profession, scope for the future roles of pharmacy, new technologies, working conditions, and career progression.

We appreciate all those who took part in both the survey and focus groups.

Workforce Intelligence Report (2023)

On 25 September 2023, the PSI Workforce Intelligence Report and accompanying Pharmacy Workforce Survey Analysis Report were launched at the Department of Health. The Workforce Intelligence Report, the first of its kind for pharmacy in Ireland, provides a baseline view of the pharmacy workforce in Ireland. It assesses the current risks to the continued availability of pharmacists and proposes a series of strategic recommendations and mitigating actions for implementation with agreement from key stakeholders from across the health system and pharmacy sector. 

As of April 2024, an implementation and oversight group has been established to monitor the progress of these recommendations (see Pharmacy Workforce Working Group section below).

Pharmacy Workforce Survey Analysis Report (2024)

To build on the findings from the initial survey, in October 2023, PSI commissioned Grant Thornton to deliver the second pharmacy workforce survey and analysis report with the aim to build on the 2022 report and identify any risks to the continued availability of the patient-facing pharmacist workforce in Ireland.

The survey was open from 22 November 2023 to 22 January 2024 and was circulated to all pharmacists registered with PSI and to 5th-year pharmacy students.

The report provides a relative overview of demographics amongst pharmacists currently registered in Ireland including country of qualification and role identification. The report also includes feedback from pharmacists and pharmacy students, on a number of themes, including role identification and details, locum work, work conditions, governance roles, career progression, and role expansion. Where possible, comparisons with the findings from the 2022 report were made.

The Pharmacy Workforce Survey Analysis Report (2024) was approved for publication by PSI Council on 25 April 2024.

Pharmacy Workforce Working Group

The Emerging Risks to Pharmacy Workforce project assessed emerging risks to the continued availability of a professional pharmacy workforce within community and hospital pharmacy in Ireland.

The primary output of this project was the Workforce Intelligence report which set out a number of recommendations and actions identified to assist in ensuring a sustainable future pharmacy workforce for Ireland including to:

“Establish a multi-agency group focused on national strategic workforce planning for pharmacy.”

There are multiple stakeholders involved in this complex issue. The establishment of this Working Group has joint ownership within the report between the PSI and the Department of Health. The group meets on a quarterly basis and includes membership from a range of stakeholders with interest in and knowledge of the pharmacy sector. The intent is to influence, inform and evolve policy relating to the future role of, demands for, and availability of pharmacists in the health service.

The following are key areas of input and discussion for the Working Group:

  • Engagement to support, facilitate and drive progress against recommendations and actions agreed in the Workforce Intelligence Report, as appropriate to individual owners. 
  • Act as an expert consultative group in support of broader health service workforce planning initiatives being led by the Department of Health and HSE.
  • Facilitate collaboration on challenges and issues being experienced in relation to strategic workforce planning for pharmacy. 
  • Share knowledge from Working Group members’ own area of expertise on proposed or anticipated strategies for the role of pharmacists within the future integrated health system, discussing their impact and associated demands on the workforce. 
  • Provide input, insight and advice, where sought, on outputs from other data sources (e.g., annual workforce survey). 
  • The establishment of this Working Group is an action designed to support the design of a national strategy for pharmacy workforce planning in Ireland to align with national and international best practice, taking a multi-agency, data driven approach as part of an integrated healthcare system. The Working Group will act to support initiatives in this regard and will advise on any strategic principles to mitigate capacity and access challenges within the health system if requested.