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Shortage of pharmacists in the United Kingdom


The Pharmacist reports that, “Pharmacists across the UK are at risk of burnout as staffing shortages drive up locum rates, according to sources speaking to The Pharmacist.

Pharmacies and locum agencies have reported that a combination of workforce issues - which they say is in part driven by the recruitment of pharmacists into primary care networks (PCNs) – and high locum rates has meant teams have had to put in extra hours to stay on top of their workload.”

An alternative to using locums to address the shortage of staff is to sponsor pharmacists from overseas to work in the United Kingdom.  The UK Government has recognised the shortage of pharmacists as a serious issue and has included “Pharmacists – all jobs” in the shortage occupation list for healthcare visas.

This change was seen in a positive light with Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) stating in an article in the Chemist and Druggist that it was a “welcome development, as community pharmacy continues to lose experienced pharmacists to primary care network (PCN)-related activity”.

What does this mean for pharmacies in practice?

Sponsor Licence

To sponsor oversees workers, including pharmacists, employers need to apply and obtain a Worker Sponsor Licence from the Home Office.  An organisation needs to show they meet certain requirements and that they can comply with the sponsor licence duties.  The cost of applying for a Sponsor Licence depends on the size of the business.   A pharmacy, which comes within the definition of a “small sponsor”, pays a lower fee of £536 and all other pharmacy businesses are charged £1,476.

It can take around 8-10 weeks for the Home Office to process a sponsor licence application and then after the licence is granted, there is the additional processing time for the new international pharmacist’s health care worker visa to take into consideration.  There is an optional priority service that can be applied for which costs £500 for a decision within 10 working days.  However, this is not guaranteed and to avoid delays to future recruitment, many businesses are choosing to apply for a sponsor licence in advance of having a specific recruitment need.  This approach is entirely accepted by the Home Office.

Once the Sponsor Licence is granted, the Sponsor can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for the worker they wish to employ.  For more information on what a Sponsor Licence is and how we can help with the application process, have a look at our previous blog.

Reduced Visa fees and quicker visa decisions

The inclusion of “Pharmacists – all jobs” on the shortage occupation list for healthcare visas reduces certain requirements like the minimum salary required for the role.  As “Pharmacist – all jobs” is also a category eligible for the Health and Care Visa this means that the visa costs for applications are reduced and it removes the requirement to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.

A Healthcare visa for up to 3 years costs £232 and a visa for more than 3 years costs £464.  In comparison, a Skilled Worker Visa for up to 3 years costs £625 and a visa for more than 3 years costs £1,235.  The Immigration Health Surcharge costs £624 for each year of the visa, which would be £3,120 for a five year visa.  There are also additional charges for the Immigration Skills Charge and a fee for the Certificate of Sponsorship.  

The Healthcare visa therefore offers significant savings and is an attractive route for employers looking to tackle staffing shortages in the long term.

Case Study

Mariam is a pharmacist from Germany.  She was not in the UK before 31 December 2020 (the end date for free movement) and therefore she requires to be sponsored in order to work in the UK. She has been offered a position by ABC Pharmacy, which is a business that is defined as a small sponsor.

The Home Office fee for a Sponsor Licence for four years is:

Sponsor licence fee                      £536


The Home Office fees for an Employer sponsoring Mariam for three years are as follows:

Fee for Certificate of Sponsorship  £199

Immigration Skills Charge            £1,092 

Total = £1, 291


Visa Application Fee for Mariam is as follows:

Healthcare Visa                           £232

Healthcare visa applications are prioritised by the Home Office and applicants applying from outside the UK can expect a decision within 3 weeks.

Mergers or acquisitions

An important aspect to consider when buying a pharmacy or when merging pharmacies is that a Sponsor Licence is not transferable.  An organisation will usually need to submit a new Sponsor Licence within 20 working days to be able to continue to employ sponsored workers.

Even if a pharmacy does not have a Sponsor Licence, another consideration when buying a pharmacy is to review the Right to Work checks that have been conducted on current employees to provide a defence known as a “statutory excuse” against any Home Office enforcement action for illegal working.  Further information about how to conduct Right to Work checks was covered in our recent blog post.

Benefits of sponsorship vs costs

There are two key benefits to sponsorship for employers.  Firstly, there is the fact that many sponsored workers tend to stay with their employers for at least the duration of their sponsorship visas.  A health care worker visa can last up to 5 years, a health care worker can then qualify for permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain) once they have been in the country for 5 years on that visa.  An employer can choose to sponsor a pharmacist for up to 5 years from the outset or opt for a staged approach of sponsoring a worker for any period up to 3 years.  Many sponsored employees will be choosing the health care worker visa as a route to obtaining permanent residence for themselves and their family members.  Whilst a sponsored employee can change employers, a change of employment involves a new visa application and many employees wish to avoid the uncertainty of a new visa application.  In addition to gaining a long-term employee, an employer may also find that using the sponsorship system works out as being more cost effective than using a recruitment agency to fill roles or relying on locums.  However, on the other side of the coin, having the benefit of a sponsor licence brings with it compliance duties which include record-keeping duties and recording changes of employment.

At Thorntons Law LLP our experienced immigration team can help guide you through the Sponsor Licence application process, provide you with tailored training on your compliance duties and support you with making subsequent visa applications for your employees.  If you have a query or seek advice, please contact our specialist Immigration team on 03330 430350.

About the author

Louise Crichton
Louise Crichton

Louise Crichton

Senior Solicitor

Immigration & Visas

For more information, contact Louise Crichton or any member of the Immigration & Visas team on 0141 483 9020.