The PSI launches first of its kind pharmacy report in Ireland - The Workforce Intelligence Report

September 25, 2023

The Workforce Intelligence Report commissioned by the PSI-The Pharmacy Regulator, examines the current challenges to the recruitment and retention of pharmacists in community and hospital settings and for the first time, provides baseline data on emerging risks specific to this cohort.

Its aim is to provide for a sustainable supply of pharmacists to meet current and future needs in patient-facing settings and to enable pharmacy to play a full role in the development of the future integrated healthcare system.

The report launch coincides with World Pharmacists Day, the theme of which this year is “Pharmacists Strengthening Health Systems”. It was commissioned in response to emerging global and national trends in pharmacy and healthcare workforce challenges, and the absence of any previous strategic workforce planning initiatives for pharmacy in Ireland. It also responds to the concerns raised by pharmacy stakeholders nationally regarding the challenges to the recruitment and retention of pharmacists.

High levels of administration, limited career progression opportunities, gaps in professional leadership, challenging working conditions, slow progress in technology and eHealth, and the importance of agreeing the future role for pharmacists within the integrated health system were among the key issues highlighted.

An important consideration of the report were the findings of a PSI workforce survey measuring the sentiment of over 1,200 pharmacists. This was conducted in November 2022, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic; a period during which all sections of society and in particular, healthcare, were under immense pressure. It provides a snapshot of pharmacists’ outlook at that time.

The survey also found that although over half of community and three-quarters of hospital pharmacists enjoyed their roles, stress was a common feature for both community pharmacists (93%) and hospital pharmacists (75%). Furthermore, while over 90% of respondents indicated that they had capacity for an increased scope of practice, respondents also spoke of a high administrative workload, absorbing time that could be better spent on clinical tasks. In addition, only one out of every five pharmacists that responded to the survey felt valued by the health system. Over a third cited technology developments and innovations, including electronic prescribing, as one of the most important areas where progress is needed to improve pharmacy workload and enable increased capacity for pharmacists to engage with patients.

The report contains six key recommendations with a series of actions, highlighting that a multi-agency stakeholder response is required to address the complex issue of workforce planning: 

  • Strategic Workforce Planning – Actions include the establishment of a multi-agency group focused on national workforce planning; the production of an annual workforce pharmacy survey report; mandatory workforce survey for all pharmacists.
  • Leadership of and for the Profession – Actions include considering the appointment of a Chief Pharmaceutical Officer; assessing the feasibility of a professional leadership body; setting and implementing a plan for the vision and role of pharmacy as part of future integrated healthcare; and developing a national strategy for the future role of pharmacy technicians.
  • Innovation and Technology - Priority areas are the design and development of national eHealth projects with pharmacy involvement; introducing changes to reimbursement and regulatory processes that facilitate digital solutions to reduce the administrative burden associated with manual paper-based activities.
  • Attracting and Recruiting Pharmacists - Actions include ensuring there are enough students being trained to meet demand; conducting an annual sentiment survey of student experiences; streamlining the recognition process for pharmacists from non-EEA countries who wish to practise in Ireland.
  • Career Sustainability and Progression - Key items include access to dedicated leadership and governance training to support career progression; development and recognition of advanced and specialist practice.
  • Working conditions - Actions include the establishment of a forum for community pharmacist employers and employees regarding best practice in relation to working conditions; expansion and promotion of a range of workplace health and well-being resources.

The report’s findings and recommendations will form the basis for providing a pharmacy perspective on national strategic workforce planning initiatives led by the Department of Health.

There are now over 7,200 registered pharmacists in Ireland, the highest number ever, with over 5,800 employed in community and hospital settings. However, the report notes that despite the increase, there are emerging risks to the continued supply of pharmacists, specifically in these settings. This aligns with trends globally and nationally for many health and social care professions.

"The challenges facing pharmacy are not unique to Ireland. Global trends correlated in the report show these challenges can be attributed to our ageing population and complex health conditions, combined with challenges in recruiting and retaining pharmacists."   

Joanne Kissane, Registrar and Chief Officer, PSI - The Pharmacy Regulator

"In that context, the report is an important first step in gathering robust data and insights into the pharmacy workforce in Ireland, setting out a series of recommendations underpinned by evidence-based research. We are pleased to present this report, which we regard as a milestone for pharmacy workforce planning in Ireland. This work was undertaken with the objective of ensuring that we have a sufficient supply of trained pharmacists equipped to provide high-quality, safe, and effective services to the public. It is about ensuring improved patient outcomes and enhancing the healthcare system overall. It is our intention that we will continue to build upon the findings presented here today and continue to contribute data and insights about the pharmacy workforce to nationally led strategic workforce planning and modelling.

We recognise that the number of registered pharmacists continues to grow year on year, which is an extremely positive development. However, it is also important that we acknowledge the issues that have been raised by pharmacists, pharmacy students, and others, and take appropriate action, along with our colleagues in the Department of Health and other health and pharmacy stakeholders, to safeguard the future sustainability of the workforce to meet patient needs and play a full role in the development of the future integrated health system.

Trends show that Ireland’s population growth will continue to impact healthcare provision in general, including access to treatment. The need to plan for the right care, by the right healthcare professional, in the right place, and at the right time has become more pertinent. Planning for the role that pharmacists will play in the health system is vital and can be realised by putting the necessary structures and policies in place.

Safeguarding the supply of pharmacists for patient-facing settings is critically important, most particularly in the context of ensuring continued patient and public trust in pharmacy services and assuring high quality of care is provided.”

The PSI report states that workforce planning is a complex issue and requires a multi-stakeholder approach. It notes the collaboration by pharmacy and health stakeholders who formed part of the project’s Working Group to agree and commit to the recommendations and actions outlined in the report. It also welcomes the ongoing commitment from the Working Group to progressing the recommendations as part of national strategic workforce planning.

Concluding, Ms Kissane added “We acknowledge progress is already being made in some areas, notably the announcement on the potential to increase capacity in pharmacy with the creation of additional third-level placements. We also welcome the creation of an Expert Taskforce to support the expansion of the role of pharmacists. Further to this, we are aware of the impending publication of the Social Care Workforce Planning Strategy, Action Plan and Planning Projection Model, which will include projections for pharmacists. These are all extremely important steps, that taken in conjunction with the report’s other actions, will serve to make a positive contribution to the issue of strategic workforce planning for pharmacy."