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‘Massive drop’ in safe pharmacy staffing levels in 2021, finds PDA

There was a “massive drop” in safe staffing levels in 2021 and working conditions in pharmacies generally worsened, a Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) survey has suggested.

A total of 1,337 pharmacists – of which 81% said they work in community pharmacy – responded to the 2021 survey, which ran between October and November last year, the PDA wrote in a report of the findings last week (February 25).

The union flagged a “massive drop in safe staffing levels” last year, with 76.2% saying the staffing levels where they work are safe “none of the time”, the “minority of the time”, or “around half of the time”.

This compares with 51.3%  the same in 2020, the PDA said. The union again used the opportunity to urge employers to address recruitment and retention issues in community pharmacy.

Read more: GPhC chief: 'Counterproductive' to set ideal number of pharmacy staff


Read more: Pharmacy teams flag staffing level concerns amid mounting workloads


Worsening conditions “across the board”


Working conditions in pharmacies worsened “across the board” in 2021, the PDA said, flagging that  “the same levels of inadequate rest breaks seen in 2019 were reflected again in 2021, reversing signs of improvement in 2020”.

In fact, the survey shows that 62.3% had an adequate rest either “none of the time”, the “minority of the time”, or “around half of the time” in 2021, compared with 51% saying the same in 2020.

Access to a pharmacist was “lower than in previous years”, the PDA added.

This is “most likely due to significant reductions in pharmacy support staff and overstretched pharmacists having to multitask with activities such as vaccinations and consulting on minor ailments, meaning patients had to wait longer to be seen”, the PDA claimed.

The PDA also noted “worsening levels of respect for professional judgement, lower support when raising concerns, and much lower levels of physical safety in comparison to 2020”.


Violence in pharmacy


The survey highlighted that eight in 10 (80.3%) pharmacists felt unsafe at some point at work in 2021.

However, the survey did not look at the issues around the availability of lateral flow test kits and intimidation from anti-vax protests, the PDA specified.

Read more: Lateral flow test chaos: ‘Tearful’ pharmacy customers, 16-digit code ‘madness’ and patient abuse


“Many responses reported unachievable targets, unrealistic time pressures, and most worrying of all, numerous instances of bullying and harassment,” the PDA wrote.

C+D revealed last month that in 2019 and 2020 alone, police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received at least 15,858 reports of crime committed in pharmacies – which included episodes of violence.

The PDA encourages all employers to sign up to its Safer Pharmacies Charter and pledge to improve working conditions for the benefit of “patients, pharmacists, and pharmacy teams”.


Read more: What sector employers are doing to tackle rising violence against pharmacy staff



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