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Back to the future: Are locum rates really higher than they've ever been?

Reece Samani explains why the locum rate debate needs to be revisited in light of new data from the C+D Salary Survey 2022

When I saw the results of C+D’s recent Salary Survey, I was intrigued but not surprised. Just like in 2021, 2022 saw a significant increase in locum rates, which went from an average of £28.10 per hour to £33.30 per hour.

Rising locum rates have been a topic of discussion for a long time, but the debate around them seems to have intensified in recent months. Things have become quite heated.

On the one hand, it is increasingly difficult for pharmacy owners to balance the books with costs rising and funding having been cut.

On the other, many locum pharmacists feel this pay rise was long overdue. I sympathise with both positions.

It must be extremely tough for pharmacy owners and managers – especially those in independent community pharmacies.

Their margins are being squeezed and if they feel they can’t afford to pay increased locum fees, they cannot have any sort of break.

Read more: Salary Survey 2022: Is the locum rate bubble about to burst?

Locums' belief they deserve more is entirely justified. It is a hard job for which you need to be highly skilled and rates dropped off badly between 2008 and 2016.

In fact, if you zoom out and look at locum rates over the last 15 years, then only now are they approaching anything like the levels seen in the first decade of this century.

In 2008, locums earned an average of £24 per hour. Increasing with inflation, that would be £34.89 per hour in 2023.

Read more: Locum rates: 'If we all look for solutions we can move in the right direction'

As I see it, the main reason for the recent increase in locum rates is a simple case of supply and demand.

New roles have been created for pharmacists that are pulling some of our colleagues away from community work.

The most notable of these are at GP practices, but there are also new opportunities cropping up in digital healthcare and other private services.

Additionally, the number of pharmacy graduates has dropped off.

Under those conditions, it is natural that locums who remain in community pharmacy use their increased negotiating power to ask for better wages and push for improved conditions. That is how markets work.

Markets are not perfect though.

In my view, inefficiencies in the locum market in community pharmacies are a big part of the current rate issue and the tension around it.

A significant problem is the fragmented way in which locums are recruited by pharmacy managers and owners.

Small pharmacies rely on numerous agencies and social media groups that can be unwieldy.

Larger chains have locum co-ordinators who go through clunky platforms that are often impersonal and allow no flexibility or negotiation.

This mish-mash system also creates what was referred to by a locum quoted in a recent C+D article as “a game of cat and mouse”.

What they meant is that shifts are often offered at rates below those that the market dictates and those rates are increased bit by bit as the date of the shift approaches.

As a result, the locum that is prepared to accept the lowest rate gets the shift.

Read more: Locuming in 2022: ‘A game of cat and mouse’

I believe it would be a huge help to have a more transparent, open system – a shared pool of locum pharmacists.

All pharmacies and pharmacy managers would be able to draw from it and it would allow pharmacy managers to see who they are recruiting.

It would also allows locums to negotiate and avoid the game of cat and mouse.

A system like that reduces the bureaucracy involved in recruiting locums, saving money that can be used to pay for the increase in locum rates. It encourages fair rates for good work.

A more open system, where all parties have information about each other and can communicate freely, also takes away from the adversarial, hostile nature of the locum recruitment process that seems to have become more of an issue recently.

We all got into pharmacy because we believe in its importance – because we value that connection with patients and like providing high-quality services to people in our local communities.

That goes for locums and pharmacy managers alike. 

Unfortunately, the current locum recruitment system and the climate it creates sometimes appear to lead us to forget our shared purpose.

 

Reece Samani is CEO of The Locum App and SignatureRx

 

See all the coverage so far on the C+D Salary Survey hub

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