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‘Bleak outlook’: PSNC survey highlights temporary closures and staff shortages

Temporary pharmacy closures and staff shortages are contributing to “a bleak outlook for the sector’s future”, a Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) survey has suggested.

Figures from PSNC’s pharmacy pressures survey, published last week (April 13), revealed that the total cumulative number of hours of unplanned closures by all affected pharmacies stood at 5,859 over a one-month period.

Read more: Pharmacy time spent sourcing medicines more than doubles to 11 hours a week

This is equivalent to 651 days of closures working on the basis of a nine-hour opening day, the negotiator said.

PSNC polled more than 2,000 pharmacy team members and 900 pharmacy owners and head office representatives covering more than 6,200 premises.

Read more: ‘Concerning but unsurprising’: 10% say their pharmacy never has safe staffing levels

The survey also found that an ongoing shortage of pharmacy staff has only heaped more pressure on already overstretched pharmacy teams.

Over seven in 10 (71%) pharmacy businesses said they are experiencing shortages of pharmacists, and 73% are experiencing shortages of other staff, PSNC said.

Difficulties covering staffing or locum costs were the most significant driver of staff shortages, with 77% of pharmacy owner or head office respondents citing this reason – up from 51% in last year’s pressures survey.

Read more: A fifth of employee pharmacists report ‘dangerous’ levels of understaffing

And over two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed reported that they had been required to work extra hours due to staff shortages.

PSNC said the results “paint a bleak picture for community pharmacies”.

“It is clear that without urgent action from [the] government and the NHS this will only get worse,” it said.

Last week (April 14), C+D reported that the survey had revealed that pharmacy teams have more than doubled the amount of time they spend sourcing medicines in just a year.

 

“Serious workforce crisis”

 

Responding to the findings, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) policy manager Helga Mangion said the data on staff shortages points to “a serious workforce crisis in the community pharmacy sector, which requires immediate attention”.

She stressed that a “comprehensive workforce plan, backed by new investment” is needed to help ensure the sector is an “attractive place to work and develop careers”.

Read more: PCNs: Golden opportunity or just a pain in the ARRS for community pharmacy?

“Steps should be taken to stop the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) from being a drain on community pharmacy capacity,” she added.

A government review into integrated care boards, published earlier this month (April 4), warned that the recruitment of pharmacists into primary care networks (PNCs) has “exacerbated” pharmacy closures.

Read more: Pharmacy closures 'exacerbated' by PCN recruitment, warns government review

And last year’s C+D investigation into temporary pharmacy closures revealed that 3,660 pharmacies across England had reported at least once instance of closing temporarily over the period of a year.

According to C+D’s analysis of the data, pharmacies recorded "locum could not be found" as the reason for having to close temporarily in 10,637 instances, while "no cover found" featured 811 times.

Read more: Revealed: The reasons behind temporary pharmacy closures

But responding to PSNC’s survey results, Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day told C+D that many temporary closures are occurring even when locum cover is available.

The PDA recognises that the funding contract in England is “inadequately resourced” and it “supports contractors in their claim for improved funding”, he said.

But equivalent data for pharmacies in Scotland and Wales suggests that many temporary closures had occurred at large chains that remained profitable.

“In such circumstances, the business decision not to engage a locum for the going rate, or in some reported situations, apparently not even seek a locum to fulfil a shift, remains a concern for prioritising patient care,” he stressed.

Data from the C+D Salary Survey Survey 2022 revealed more than 70% of employee pharmacists believe staffing levels at their pharmacy are inadequate, with almost a fifth (17%) branding staffing levels dangerously low.

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