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Locum pharmacists: Industry rate rises unsustainable, Numark director warns

Rising locum rates have “caused tremendous problems” over the last year and “can’t be sustainable for the industry” in the long term, Numark director Jeremy Meader has told C+D.

Given the current “going rate for a pharmacist”, the increasing cost of locums’ hourly rates “just does not work” for the industry, Mr Meader said in an exclusive interview with C+D this month.

Locum pharmacist rates have been the subject of heated debate throughout 2022, with some arguing that they were becoming increasingly unsustainable for contractors to pay.

“You cannot, when you look at the bottom line for a pharmacy, justify paying that much,” Mr Meader told C+D.

Read more: Locum pharmacists: Agencies predict what Christmas rates will look like

He said: “It can't be sustainable for the industry to have [locum rates] so much above the going rate for a pharmacist.

“It just does not work in the long term. It's caused tremendous problems this year.”

“But unless there is some solution to it, you're going to see pharmacies just not be able to pay their bills,” he added.

 

“Pharmacy is at breaking point”

 

While contractors contend with rising operating costs, drug price increases and a higher volume of scripts, these costs have also been exacerbated by the difficulties of recruiting a locum pharmacist, Mr Meader said.

“Getting a locum pharmacist is not only very difficult, it's very expensive. Pharmacies have got a tremendous challenge in terms of the cost base that they have,” he said.

“The number one issue is the funding in England. It's got to the stage now where the funding is just unsustainable,” he added.

“And the reality is that it was tough at the time [the contract] was signed back in 2019, when inflation was less than 2%,” Mr Meader told C+D.

“It's just meant that pharmacy is at breaking point and we are now starting to see pharmacies close,” he added.

“I think speaking openly, it's very hard to see that that trend won't increase next year.”

Recent analysis conducted by booking platform Locate a Locum recorded the UK-average locum rate at £38.86 per hour across the UK in the third quarter of this year, rising 3.7% on the £37.49 recorded across the UK in the previous quarter.

And booking platform LocumBell told C+D this week that it expects rates to “remain high” over the Christmas period – at around £45 to £50 per hour – although shifts may be “difficult to fill”.

In November, a C+D investigation also revealed that some 3,660 pharmacies across England reported temporarily closing between 1 October 2021 and 30 September 2022.

Affected pharmacies reported shutting their doors a total of 20,924 times during this period and C+D’s analysis found that the majority of temporary closures across England were attributed to a lack of locum cover.

Read more: Lack of funding and workforce issues to blame for temporary closures, say LPCs

Meanwhile, Rowlands – which sits under the Phoenix UK group alongside Numark – apologised for an “IT glitch” earlier this week that led to delayed payments to its locum pharmacists.

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