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Who is to blame for 2023’s diminishing locum returns?

Employers? Government? Industry associations? Where does the culpability lie for the first drop in locum rates in seven years?

Data from C+D’s 2023 Salary Survey show that last year saw the first drop in locum rates in seven years.

Our latest Salary Survey found that locums across the UK were paid an average of £31.67 per hour last year, a drop of 5% (£1.63) from 2022.  That being said, the new average rate is still the second highest recorded by C+D. 

Survey data was collected between October 2024 and January of this year. While locums were conversing with C+D about their dwindling hourly rate, the PDA fought employers to secure over £100,000 in unpaid locum fees, the largest annual amount of locum “wage theft” ever, it said at the time. Not only are locums losing out in their pockets, but it also seems they are waiting longer for it to appear in their bank balance, too. 

2024, it seems, is not the best time to be a locum pharmacist.

These figures come at a time when the community pharmacy locum is dealing with Pharmacy First fallout, with multiples demanding declarations to carry out the service, and refusing to book locum pharmacists who do not agree to deliver the new England health initiative in their stores. And this was all before the service was officially launched on January 31.


Staffing pressures


This situation is compounded by community pharmacies continuing to face staffing pressures as pharmacists and other qualified staff are lured away to GP surgery and PCN roles under the ongoing additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS). One would hope that supply and demand metrics would impact on the shift rate in many circumstances. 

In October, Locate a Locum chief executive Jonathon Clarke said that changing locum pay reflected “market forces” that are “increasingly relying on locums to deliver services and ensure that pharmacies remain fully operational”, while pharmacy broker Christie & Co stated that that the pharmacy sector is facing an “employment crisis”.

Lower rates plus slower payments multiplied by the industry’s reliance on locums. Surely, this is the calculation for higher locum rates in the foreseeable future?


Where does the buck stop?


While searching for places to attribute the blame of lower pay and overwork, the pharmacy itself might be the obvious answer as the party that sets the rate and manages the workload. 

Of our survey respondents, 36% mirror this view and accuse their employer of lower rates. However, 25% said that the government was to blame, while 17% inculpated Community Pharmacy England (CPE).

Whether it be the government, individual pharmacies and multiples or even CPE, where the buck stops will always be up for debate. But things change. There will be a UK general election in the next 12 months which may see an incoming Labour party offer more funding to primary care. The shortage of pharmacists may continue because of the temptations of the GP’s clinic and catalyse a rise in the locum’s hourly rate because of employers trying to fill in the gaps in the “employment crisis”.

Whatever the change, in the blink of an annualised eye locums may go from being the subject of tax clawbacks and lessening wages to controlling not only their working hours, but also the cash narrative and their future in the pharmacy profession.


Have your say in the comments below.


Jo Shorthouse is acting editor of C+D


Insights from the 2023 Salary Survey will be published over the coming weeks. To keep up to date with this coverage go to the C+D Salary Survey hub.

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