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Scottish locums flag attempts to drive down rates, PDA warns

Locum pharmacists in Scotland have flagged attempts to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to drive down locum rates, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has said.

The PDA has received reports from Scottish locum pharmacists claiming their rates are being driven down through “different mechanisms”, the organisation said in a statement earlier this week (October 26).

Increasing numbers of locums in Scotland are approaching the PDA with concerns over this issue, director Paul Day told C+D earlier this week (October 28).

In its statement earlier in the week, the PDA said it was receiving reports of “what is beginning to look like attempts to drive down the locum rate in Scotland”.

These include accounts of “large chain multiples engaging locum agencies to import pharmacists from England into Scotland”, even when Scottish locum pharmacists – who are trained to provide services such as the NHS Pharmacy First – are available to work.

“The bookings include the provision of travel and hotel expenses, raising the question of how this could possibly be a more economic approach – unless the long-term effect was to drive down locum rates in Scotland,” the PDA said.

The reports from locums suggest some employers are “taking advantage of the oversupply of locums, which the pandemic has caused to drive down locum rates”, it added.

Redeployed from health boards

According to other locums, community pharmacies in Scotland would sometimes prefer to source pharmacist cover through their local health board emergency COVID-19 redeployment scheme, the PDA said.

Introduced in April by the NHS in Scotland, the scheme allows health boards to redeploy pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to community pharmacies to support them in coping with an increased workload triggered by the pandemic.

The PDA said that one of its members reported “being told by a pharmacy contractor that they were not going to pay the standard rate requested by our member and that they would go to the health board and get a pharmacist from them instead”.

However, a Scottish government spokesperson told C+D yesterday (October 29) that the pharmacy network’s workload has returned to “activity levels pre-pandemic”.

For this reason, “no health boards are providing additional support to community pharmacies in their area”, they said.

“As independent contractors, community pharmacy owners are wholly responsible for all aspects of their business operations, including the recruitment of permanent or locum staff and rates of pay offered,” the spokesperson added.

No hesitation in referring cases to CMA

The PDA “will have no hesitation in referring any anti-competitive cartel behaviour to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), where necessary”, it said.

PDA director Paul Day told C+D that the organisation has not yet reported any contractors to the CMA, but that it has received a “significant number” of reports of anti-competitive behaviour from Scottish locums.

“It can never be right to seek to manipulate locum rates downwards by deliberately flooding the local market with locums from elsewhere, particularly when this results in some patients not being able to receive the care that should be available to them via the Scottish NHS Pharmacy First Scheme due to a lack of required training in replacement locums from England,” the PDA said in its statement.

Three locum agencies told C+D last month they had seen a drop in demand for locum pharmacists during spring and summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you make of the claims reported by the PDA?

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