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Health board rectifies locum pharmacists’ COVID vax overpayment issue

A Scottish health board has “taken steps” to ensure locum pharmacists are now paid the correct rate for their contribution to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, it has told C+D.

Earlier this month, several locum pharmacists flagged on Twitter that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had cancelled their future COVID-vaccination shifts at short notice.

In a letter shared with the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), the health board wrote to locum pharmacists on March 10, saying it would cancel their upcoming shifts and “temporarily pause your input into the COVID-vaccination programme while the pay mechanism is rearranged”.

The decision was taken following “revised guidance” the Scottish government issued this month – which clarifies that the rate per session of £231 per 3.5 hours “must only be offered to pharmacy contractors”, while different pay arrangements apply to locum pharmacists.

“Inadvertently” overpaid

The health board had “inadvertently” been overpaying locum pharmacists, but it has now “taken steps to remedy this”, a spokesperson told C+D yesterday (March 23).

“NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has applied the national guidance regarding pay rates for vaccinators as per the national circulars,” the spokesperson added.

All healthcare professionals who are employed to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme “are paid in accordance with nationally set terms and conditions” at “specified” pay rates according to their job roles, according to the health board. The spokesperson added that locum pharmacists can join the COVID-19 vaccination programme as a vaccinator and will now be paid as band 5 on the NHS Agenda for Change.

“We have set up a staff bank, whereby individuals are paid at an agreed rate, this comprises a range of healthcare professions, including doctors and dentists,” the spokesperson added.

Some locum pharmacists had previously flagged that they feared they were being treated differently from other professionals who had not seen their rates change.

Scottish government: misunderstanding of guidance

A spokesperson for the Scottish government told C+D that it has always been the case that only pharmacy contractors – whose premises are registered on a health board’s pharmaceutical list – would be reimbursed a fee of £231 per session.

“Different arrangements apply to board-employed and locum pharmacists,” they added.

However, due to a misunderstanding of national guidelines, some locum pharmacists were being paid the incorrect rate, according to the Scottish government.

Breach of contract

The PDA claimed earlier this month that locum pharmacists had been reporting that the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board had “unilaterally” cancelled their shifts.

It said that it was “advising individual locum members where they stand if an employer has breached their contract and cancelled agreed work assignments without giving the specified contractual notice period”.

PDA director Paul Day said it was “disappointing” that locum pharmacists who had stepped in to support the COVID-19 vaccination efforts had had future shifts cancelled.

“Pharmacists will have turned down other work to support this service and may not now be able to recoup their losses,” he added.

An issue for other health boards?

C+D has approached all 14 health boards in Scotland, to ask if they had also been overpaying locum pharmacists.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway, NHS Fife, NHS Forth Valley, and NHS Grampian said this was not an issue in their areas. NHS Highland, NHS Shetland and NHS Tayside said they either do not employ pharmacists to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination programme or they have not enlisted the help of locum pharmacists.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran said that “no locum community pharmacy shifts have been cancelled due to pay issues” and the health board is communicating the revised pay guidance to pharmacy teams. C+D asked the health board whether it had also been overpaying locum pharmacists, but a spokesperson said they have no further comment.

A PDA spokesperson told C+D today (March 24) that it is still gathering feedback from members before it can ascertain how the different health boards have acted in relation to paying locums for their COVID-19 vaccination contributions.

“We remain concerned that the Scottish government appears to have only engaged meaningfully with the representatives of employers on this issue and called on them to appropriately engage with us as the legitimate representatives of individual pharmacists,” the spokesperson added.  

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