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Locum pharmacist rate woes: how much are they getting for shifts?

In the context of the heated debate around pharmacy closures and the availability of pharmacists, C+D has asked locums and locum agencies for their calculated average locum rate

Locum pharmacist rates have been heavily discussed in recent months, particularly since Tesco Pharmacy controversially decided to introduce four fixed locum rates – capped £36 per hour for emergency cover – in its pharmacies in July.

That same month, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association 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.

But when approached by C+D, Tesco fielded those allegations by pointing to its new “higher” standard hourly rates.

Meanwhile, allegations emerged that Boots pharmacy was capping locum rates at £35 per hour, at a time when it revealed plans to launch a new locum management system later this year.

Pharmacy bodies have been sounding alarm bells over “rapidly-inflating locum rates”, suggesting in July that “pharmacies of all sizes” were raising concerns about this and the availability of pharmacists.

So, within this context, what hourly rates have locum pharmacist been able to secure? C+D asked locums and locum agencies for their calculated averages.


Average rates according to locum agencies


Booking agency LocumBell told C+D that its median locum pharmacist rate currently stands at “around £35” per hour.

Meanwhile, Locate a Locum analysed 32,377 shifts to determine the average UK hourly rate between April and July.

It found that the rate averaged at £37.49, which it claims represents an increase of £4.81 from 2021, a company spokesperson told C+D.

Data gathered in C+D’s Salary Survey between November 26 and December 31 last year revealed that locums based in Great Britain earned on average £28.10 per hour throughout 2021.



The rates according to locum pharmacists


Locum pharmacist and co-owner of Schedule Four Consultancy Tohidul Islam told C+D that conversations he had had with coordinators and contractors indicated that shifts “seem to get filled pretty easily [when locum pharmacists ask for] around £30-35” per hour.

“I’m seeing independent [pharmacies] offer shifts at £25-£30, which are getting filled,” he added.

Mr Islam previously took to Twitter to stress that locum rates are “not rapidly inflating” but are instead increasing “in line with inflation”.

Meanwhile, locum pharmacist Peta Norrish – who works in North Wales and the northwest of England – told C+D her rate varies according to the region she picks up a shift in.

In the northwest, she receives “a maximum of £45” per hour, whereas in Wales “it can go up to £50 or £52”, she explained.

Another locum pharmacist based in England, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they are not accepting shifts below £45.

“Boots tend to advertise at rates of £35-45, but I do not see other companies advertising any higher than about £35 typically,” they claimed.

While Boots did not clarify to C+D the value of its advertised hourly rates, a spokesperson said the multiple offers “competitive rates… in line with local market conditions”.

The anonymous pharmacist also suggested that they were recently contacted at short notice by Tesco to cover a bank holiday shift, but the supermarket chain was still unable to meet their rates and offer anything above the “emergency maximum of £36”, they claimed. C+D has approached Tesco for comment on the chain’s current practice on booking  emergency locum rates.


Are rates sustainable?


The LocumBell spokesperson told C+D that, based on their first-hand experience, pharmacy contractors are very reluctant to close their pharmacies temporarily when cover cannot be secured, but they “feel it is not sustainable to keep paying these rates”.

The agency tries to “find a middle ground [in regards to rates] as fair remuneration is important, but consideration of the impact on patients and supporting the wider NHS if pharmacy closures take place is [equally] important”, they added.

Contractors should “make improvements to the environment in which locums are expected to practice, as we do find locums prefer some contractors more than others”, the spokesperson added.

Indeed, Ms Norrish told C+D there are some pharmacies she “wouldn't even look at unless they increase the rate”, having experienced the workload there.

She often feels like she is walking into a shift “blindly”, compared to her experience working as a locum in Australia, where “you actually knew what you were going to do [and] roughly how many items you’d be dispensing” when applying for a locum shift.


Online traffic “higher than most years”


Though LocumBell acknowledged temporary closures as a prevalent issue within the pharmacy sector, the spokesperson shared that traffic on the platform “has been higher than most years as a combination of workforce issues”.

However, based on LocumBell's experience, contractors were not unwilling to pay higher rates when booking shifts at short notice, they added.

Meanwhile, Mr Islam claimed that “a lot of locums aren’t getting regular work”.

Some companies do not reply to locums offering to cover shifts, he further stated – at times resorting to closing branches temporarily.

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

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