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A fifth of employee pharmacists report ‘dangerous’ levels of understaffing

More than 70% of employee pharmacists believe staffing levels at their pharmacy are inadequate, C+D data has revealed.

C+D’s Salary Survey 2022 found there were widespread reports of understaffing among UK pharmacists employed by community pharmacies, with almost a fifth (17%) branding staffing levels dangerously low.

Of 410 employed pharmacists, 70.7% said that staffing levels were either ‘quite low’ or ‘so low they are dangerous’.

More than half (53.7%) said that staffing levels at their pharmacy were 'quite low', 17% said they were 'so low they are dangerous' and the remaining 29.2% of respondents said they were adequate.

Read more: CCA: At least 720 English pharmacies permanently closed since 2015

It comes as C+D yesterday (February 22) revealed that more than 80% of employee pharmacists considered leaving their job in 2022, with 43% having actively looked for another job.

The annual survey polled community pharmacist branch managers, area managers, second or non-manager pharmacists and superintendent pharmacists.


“Unrealistic workloads”


The survey also found that increasing workloads were a major problem, with 92.2% of 412 employed pharmacists saying their workload had increased over the 12 months to the survey.

Almost two-thirds (65.4%) of 417 employed pharmacists said their workload was ‘often’ or ‘always unrealistic’ – with more than a fifth (21.5%) saying their workload was ‘always unrealistic’.

Read more: Revealed: The average locum pharmacist pay rate in 2022

Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day told C+D that “too much work with too few staff means pharmacists sacrifice their own wellbeing in order to keep patients safe”.

“Of course, that is not sustainable and in effect is employers driving professionals away from their practice,” he added.


“We can’t afford to pay more staff”


But Ketan Patel, owner and lead pharmacist at Acorn Pharmacy in Luton, told C+D that there is a “shortage of dispensing staff and the issue is we can’t afford to pay more staff”.

“The supermarkets are paying £11 an hour and we haven’t had a pay increase in five years,” he said.

Thanks to the increasing cost of medicines, the pharmacy is “dispensing at a loss”, making staff unaffordable, he added.

Read more: At a glance: Compare how locum rates vary across Great Britain

People are “going into higher remunerated areas” leading to a shortage of staff in the sector, he said.

And Mr Patel added that pharmacies are facing a “perfect storm”, with workload that has “increased tremendously because we are chasing our tails trying to obtain medicines” as well as increased costs.

“Our NHS statement doesn’t even cover our wholesale bills,” he told C+D. “If we weren’t doing COVID vaccines, we’d be losing £2,000 a month.”


“People leave for better pay”


Superintendent pharmacist at Tollesbury Pharmacy in Malden, Dimple Bhatia, said pharmacy staffing levels are “too low”, with a “shortage of staff that want to work in pharmacy” and “significant difficulty in recruiting”.


“I have been severely out of pocket where we have ordered staff uniforms and enrolled in statutory training courses only to see people leave for better pay,” he told C+D.


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


“We need to ask why community pharmacies are not an attractive employment opportunity,” he added. “Pharmacists are leaving to work in primary care and staff can earn more in the local supermarket.”


“Until we fund pharmacies better, we are on a path of self-destruction”, he said. 


“Taking a toll”


Meanwhile, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) policy and practice lead for England Heidi Wright said that “staffing pressures, alongside an increase in workload, create an extra burden” on pharmacy teams.

This “takes a toll” on their “wellbeing”, she added.

Read more: Eight in 10 employee pharmacists considered quitting in 2022

“The government must make the most of pharmacists’ clinical expertise for the benefits of patients and the wider NHS, but this must be backed with adequate funding models and much-needed investment in pharmacy education and training”, she told C+D.

It comes as the pharmacy negotiator has revealed that it has rejected “totally inadequate” government proposals to relieve pressure on pharmacists – but that legal advice suggests strike action is “not an option” for pharmacy businesses.


Data from the 2022 Salary Survey last week revealed that the average locum rate has rocketed to a new record high for a second year in a row, reaching £33.30 per hour in 2022.


The C+D Salary Survey 2022 ran between October 25 2022 and January 20 2023 and was completed by a total of 1,480 pharmacists and pharmacy staff.


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

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