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‘Soul destroying’: C+D survey reveals contractors in crisis mode

Pharmacy owners are crushed by work as C+D’s annual Salary Survey reveals that more than four in ten contractors want out of the profession

Suicidal thoughts, heavy drinking, and high levels of stress are key themes to emerge from contractors responding to C+D’s Salary Survey.


“I’ve been passionate about pharmacy all my life but the constant pressure is unbearable now,” a pharmacy contractor told C+D.


C+D’s 2023 Salary Survey shows contractors are suffering under the weight of their work, much of it due to the inordinate time spent looking for medicines. 


Read more: Community pharmacy burnout levels sky-high as 85% consider quitting


This year, 58 contractors shared an in-depth look at their businesses and the conditions they operate in. Their answers provide a bleak picture of the pressures that are driving many of them to the brink of quitting the pharmacy profession altogether.


Of contractors responding to the survey, six in ten (60%) own one pharmacy, 20% own two to five, 13% own between six and ten and 6% own 11 or more pharmacies.



“No help from anywhere”



Nearly all contractors (94%) reported that their workload had increased over the year.


Multiple contractors told C+D that they “don't have a work/life balance” and one complained that they received “no help from anywhere”.


Read more: GPhC ‘very aware’ of poor pharmacist wellbeing, MPs told


Time spent sourcing medicines was the single biggest contributor to the workload rise, cited by 39% of respondents.


“To survive, you have to become Del Boy Trotter to get medicines at a reasonable price,” one contractor said.


“This is the worst profession, and nobody cares,” another said.



50+ hour weeks the norm



Time spent on dispensing and reduced staff levels were also cited as reasons for having more work, each by 12% of respondents. 


Almost a fifth (18%) of contractors said that they had used less locum cover or had reduced locum rates, while 12% had reduced staff hours in the face of financial pressures.


One contractor working in a remote location said that an unexpected illness that put them out of commission for three weeks cost their pharmacy “just short of £10,000” for locum cover.


And average working hours were skewed to the highest value on offer. 


Read more: Revealed: The average locum pharmacist pay rate in 2023


Nearly half of contractors (49%) said that they spent more than 51 hours working per week, while 28% spent between 41-50 hours a week at work.


One respondent said that they work 80+ hour weeks because there are “no good community pharmacy locums available”. “[Locums] are working in GP surgeries and hospitals in funded positions that community pharmacy cannot compete with,” they added.


Contractors predominantly felt that their workloads were “always unrealistic” (40%) or “often unrealistic” (34%), with just a quarter (26%) of contractors reporting that their workloads were “mostly realistic”.



A life of permacrisis



Meanwhile, the long working hours were matched by high levels of reported stress among contractors. Nearly six in ten (59%) considered their stress levels “very high” and a further quarter (26%) of contractors said that stress levels were “high”.


Some 43% of respondents said that they suffered stress “as result of work” overall. A third (33%) said that they had trouble sleeping, two in ten (21%) said that they were depressed and 17% said that they were “drinking more than usual”.


Two respondents said that they had experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of work this year, while one contractor told C+D that their work had “contributed to ill health”.


Read more: At a glance: How do locum rates vary across Great Britain?


Others said that they were “at breaking point mentally”, with “no light at the end of the tunnel”.


And contractors said that an “untenable workload” and “stress” were the factors that most affected the service that they provide to patients – both cited by 34% of respondents.


One respondent told C+D that the stress and the risk to patient safety that followed was driving pharmacists out of the profession.


Read more: What was the average UK pharmacist branch manager salary in 2023?


“I have never felt so low personally and mentally and feel like I no longer want to continue with the profession if things don’t change”, they said.

“It is soul destroying and very stressful to own/work in community pharmacy now,” another contractor said. “This last year is the first time our company has made a loss, making me very nervous about the future of our pharmacy.”





Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than two-thirds (68%) of contractor respondents said they would not recommend their career to others. 


One contractor said that you would have to be “mad” to choose a career in community pharmacy in the UK. Another said that while they loved their job, it had come “at a personal cost” and they “would never recommend it”.


Read more: Average salary of non-manager pharmacists sees dramatic uplift


The survey revealed that over four in ten (41%) contractors want out of the profession altogether – with respondents reporting that they are “disillusioned” and wish to sell their pharmacy and do something else entirely. 


Almost one in ten (9%) contractors would like to sell their business to move into locuming and another 21% would like to sell and retire, they told C+D. 


One contractor who is older than 65 said that they wanted to retire but cannot as they are “unable to realise a reasonable pension by selling the pharmacy”.


Read more: Funded counselling sessions rocket 200% in a year, sector’s charity says

But a fifth (21%) of respondents told C+D that they were “happy” with their career choice and current position.

Against the odds, there seems still to be a contented core of contractors who are keen to soldier on – but for many, this seems impossible.

“I don’t know how long we can carry on,” one contractor said.

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit to find your nearest branch.

The C+D Salary Survey 2023 ran between October 27 2023 and January 8 2024 and was completed by a total of 1,261 pharmacists and pharmacy staff.

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

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