The Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) was commissioned by the Department of Health (DH) to undertake a review to forecast and analyse the future supply and demand for the pharmacist workforce in England between 2012 and 2040.

In September 2013, we published a review, A strategic review of the future pharmacist workforce: informing pharmacy student intake, that supports the DH, Health Education England (HEE) and wider Government in policy decision making to secure the pharmacist workforce of the future and the number of pre-registration trainees required.

Shape of the review

This review was driven by the need to provide sustainable, high-quality pharmacy services in a complex and evolving environment. The work was set in the context of the ongoing rise in pharmacist student numbers (more than doubling from 1999 to 2009, and the Modernising Pharmacy Careers (MPC) Professional Board recommendation that the four-year pharmacy masters degree and pre-registration training year should be integrated into a single five-year course.

The purpose of the review is to consider how a complex set of factors interrelate to impact on the supply and demand of the future workforce. Short-term decisions may have a significant impact on the long-term availability of pharmacists in the workforce. Additionally, any immediate decisions by employers to reduce the number of funded training places could compound an imbalance between graduates and available training places.

Project approach

In the report, we share the results of a system dynamics model developed by the CfWI to forecast the supply and demand of the pharmacist workforce in England against a set of stakeholder-generated scenarios. The steps involved in this work include horizon scanning, scenario generation and workforce modelling.

Our modelling shows the likely impact of certain variables on both the supply and demand of the pharmacist workforce. We used MPharm student data, pre-registration year data, and registered pharmacist data to forecast supply and demand based on a set of plausible scenarios facing the pharmacy workforce up to 2040.

The factors that work together to affect supply include MPharm student numbers and evidence-based attrition rates. We also looked at other factors for pharmacists joining and leaving the profession, including retirement.

Stakeholders developed four plausible future scenarios describing the possible shape of the pharmacist workforce in 2040. Two scenarios describe a future where technological advances result in pharmacists assuming a broadened role in healthcare, and two describe a future where technological advances result in pharmacists assuming a narrowed role in healthcare.

Key findings

In all four scenarios, supply is forecast to exceed demand, regardless of the pharmacist’s role in healthcare. Therefore it is likely that there will be a surplus supply of pharmacists in the future. The possible range of oversupply by 2040 across all the plausible possible futures is between 11,000 and 19,000.

Recommendations and options for change

  • The CfWI recommends intervention to bring the supply and demand of pharmacists into balance - it is important to consider the risks associated with no active policy intervention at this stage.
  • The CfWI recommends a staged approach to balancing supply and demand to secure high-quality pharmacy services into the future - A staged change applied across multiple years can be used as a flexible, adaptive tool to bring supply and demand into balance.
  • The CfWI recommends ongoing monitoring and periodic review of supply and demand, with a continued drive to improve data around the pharmacy workforce - The broad range of forecasts for the long-term future of supply and demand suggests it would be sensible to continue to monitor and review supply and demand, and any system changes affecting their balance in the medium-to-long term.