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Boots to launch new locum management system amid pharmacist shortage row

Boots is planning to launch a new locum management system later this year, as it continues to experience “some challenges with pharmacist resource”, it has revealed.

It follows a continued debate in the sector about whether workforce issues in community pharmacy are down to a shortage of pharmacists or rather a lack of pharmacists willing to work in the sector under current pay and working conditions.

A Boots spokesperson confirmed to C+D that the chain is launching a new locum management system later in the year, which they said will make it easier for locums to book shifts and quicker for the multiple to process payments.

Catch up with C+D’s sixth Big Debate, which asked: Is there a shortage of community pharmacists?


Capping rates? 


Following allegations shared on social media that Boots caps locum rates at £35 per hour in some areas, the spokesperson told C+D that the multiple “aims to offer competitive rates for locum pharmacists, in line with local market conditions, which are regularly reviewed”.

“Like other pharmacies, we are experiencing some challenges with pharmacist resource generally. Our teams are working hard to keep stores open, minimise disruption for customers and provide the best possible service,” the spokesperson added.

Tesco Pharmacy has faced controversy since it decided to introduce four fixed locum rates – capped at £36 per hour for emergency cover – in its pharmacies from July.

Meanwhile last month (July 19), the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) claimed that Tesco was shuttering its pharmacies when no cover could be found, after reportedly pressuring locum pharmacists to walk back on pre-agreed rates or risk losing out on shifts.

Read more: Off their trolley: Has Tesco Pharmacy pushed the locum rate row to new highs?

Tesco did not directly address these allegations when approached by C+D, instead pointing to the “higher” fixed locum rates it introduced in July.

The PDA penned a scathing open letter to NHS and regulatory bosses last month, hitting out at “unnecessary” full- or part-day branch closures by some large community pharmacy chains.


“Better control” of locum rates?


According to slides shared on social media, which appear to have originated from Boots, the multiple is hoping for its new locum management system to fully go live from next month.

Among the listed benefits of the system, the slides pointed to features including “reduced agency costs”, “better control of locum rates”, and “faster and more accurate payments” to locum workers.

Read more: ‘Rapidly inflating’: Pharmacy bodies raise concerns over increased locum rates

Another slide indicates that the system will initially go live for locum registrations from this month, while all locum shifts are expected to be booked through the new platform from September.

Boots did not directly address the claim that the new system will give Boots better control over locum rates.

Last month, community pharmacy bodies raised concerns over "rapidly inflating" locum rates, which they said “could limit pharmacies’ ability to reach their full potential to both help patients and support the wider NHS”.

However, the PDA hit back, saying this "attack" on locums would not make careers in the community sector more attractive to workers.


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