Ambitious transformation ahead for pharmacy in Northern Ireland


Northern Irish Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the publication of his Department’s Pharmacy Workforce Review.


The review contains an analysis of the current pharmacy workforce in Northern Ireland and recommendations to inform the development of the pharmacy workforce over the next ten years.


The recommendations contained within the Review are consistent with wider proposals for the UK-wide reform of the initial education and training of pharmacists previously announced by the UK pharmacy regulators, including the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, in July 2020.


Some of the recommendations are outlined below:


Workforce standards 


  • Appropriate measures should be introduced to attract, recruit and retain the necessary workforce and track vacancies across all sectors.
  • Work should be undertaken with the Department for the Economy, universities and FE colleges to ensure the necessary number of pharmacy graduates and pharmacy technicians are available to meet workforce demands.
  • Initial education and training of pharmacists should be reformed to ensure that students are prepared for increasingly clinical roles in a multi-sector health environment.
  • All pharmacists should be supported to undertake foundation training, progressing to independent prescribing and advanced pharmacy practice aligned to service and patient need.
  • Appropriate training pathways and opportunities should be devised which support succession planning for senior positions within the pharmacy sectors.
  • To maximise the benefit of skill-mix, work should be urgently progressed to enable the registration and regulation and career development of the pharmacy technician workforce in NI in step with the rest of the UK.
  • Safe staffing standards for pharmacy staff must be developed to ensure patient safety.


Community pharmacy


  • Urgent action is needed to ensure the community pharmacy network has adequate workforce capacity to deliver current and future pharmacy services aligned to the wider transformation agenda. This should be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
  • The utilisation of pharmacy technicians and technologies should be optimised to enable pharmacists to spend more time on patient-facing clinical activities and manage capacity.
  • Flexible working, adequate breaks and safe staffing levels should be addressed to encourage recruitment and retention of pharmacy staff and promote their well-being.
  • A career pathway should be developed for community pharmacists.




  • Full use should be made of the skills of pharmacists as experts in medicines and prescribing to ensure medicine safety within multidisciplinary teams.
  • Define and develop the advanced pharmacist practitioner and consultant pharmacist role in the hospital sector.


General practice


  • A career pathway should be developed for general practice pharmacists. Moreover, strategic direction needs to be given as to how this sector will develop and how this will affect further recruitment.
  • A model for core general practice pharmacy services should be delivered consistently across GP Federations with scope to allow for variation in specialist/additional services according to local need.
  • A path-finder study should be undertaken to explore the role of pharmacy technicians in supporting the work of general practice pharmacists.


The project board was co-chaired by Professor Colin Adair, Postgraduate Pharmacy Dean and Director of the Northern Ireland Centre for Pharmacy Learning and Development (NICPLD), and Ms Jill MacIntyre, Head of Pharmacy and Medicines Management at the South Eastern HSC Trust. The review was planned and reported in accordance with the Regional HSC Workforce Planning Framework, which is a practical approach to ensuring a workforce of the right size and with the right skills.


Minister Swann said:


“Pharmacists and their teams play an essential role in delivering health services to the people of Northern Ireland. This has been particularly evident in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic with pharmacy teams rising to the challenges posed by the emergency to adapt and maintain their services.


“With our ageing population, our Health Service needs to care for increasing numbers of people with complex medical needs taking multiple medicines. Pharmacists with their unique set of skills and knowledge really are the medicines experts that our Health Service needs to help ensure that our people get the best possible outcomes from their medicines.


“Implementing the recommendations contained in the review will ensure that the pharmacy workforce has the necessary capability and capacity to fully support the transformation of our Health Service in the coming years.


“While some of the recommendations in the report will take time to implement fully, I am delighted to welcome today’s launch of ‘Pharmacy Futures NI’.


“This campaign will showcase the very best of our pharmacy profession, and demonstrate to current and future pharmacists from near and far why Northern Ireland is the best place to take the next step on their journey towards a rewarding career.”


Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at the Department of Health added:


“Our review has considered the full scope of pharmacy practice in HSC settings, including community pharmacy, general practice and hospitals. The recommendations contained within the report are ambitious and transformational for the pharmacy profession in Northern Ireland. Pharmacy teams are a critical part of the multi-disciplinary medicines optimisation workforce required to ensure that our people get the most from the medicines that they use every day, and are in high demand as a result.


“Planned reforms of the initial education and training of pharmacists in the UK will see pharmacists taking on increasingly clinical roles across all sectors. Optimising the skill mix of the pharmacy workforce is an essential part of realising the full potential of these wider developments. A central theme of the Review is developing the role of pharmacy technicians within the workforce in tandem with progressing the regulation and registration of pharmacy technicians as registered professionals in their own right.”



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