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Boots pharmacist: Why I launched a legal challenge to change our union

“The real benefit to me was that it might make a difference to those coming up behind me”
“The real benefit to me was that it might make a difference to those coming up behind me”

C+D spoke exclusively to one of the six Boots pharmacists whose actions sparked the formal "derecognition" of the multiple’s own union.

In June, 2,826 Boots pharmacists voted to end an agreement with the Boots Pharmacists’ Association (BPA), paving the way for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) Union to negotiate pay and holidays on behalf of the multiple’s employees.

The result was a major development in a dispute which dates back to 2012, when the PDA Union called for official recognition from Boots, after alleging the multiple's staff employment terms were being “gradually eroded”.

One pharmacist told C+D they were approached “about a year ago” by the PDA Union to become one of the six signatories needed to support the application to “derecognise” the BPA.

“They only needed one employee apparently, but they were going for safety in numbers,” the pharmacist – who wishes to remain anonymous – explained.

“I thought about it and discussed it with people from the [PDA Union] as to what the process was going to be and decided to go ahead.”

The pharmacist said they hope the derecognition of the BPA will “make pharmacists’ working lives better” and result in “greater transparency”.

“I didn’t feel like I had too much to lose,” the signatory said. “The real benefit to me [was that] it might make a difference to those coming up behind me.”

“Surprised by the result”

Despite the vote’s outcome, the pharmacist told C+D they were “quite surprised” by the result, because other pharmacists they had spoken to within the company “didn’t seem to have a lot of interest”.

“I’d be telling them about it and they weren’t aware of it or the struggles the PDA have had over the past few years.”

Reasons for supporting the legal challenge

After reading an article in the Guardian in April 2016, which detailed the complaints of disgruntled employees, the pharmacist told C+D they had recognised some of the grievances voiced by Boots colleagues.

“It seemed to be worse in some places than it was with us [and] it certainly didn’t seem that bad in my patch,” they said. “But I certainly identified with some of the pressures that were being put on the service.”

The pharmacist joined the PDA Union in March 2017 after witnessing the support the union had given to a colleague at the multiple, they told C+D.

The signatory said they believe the PDA Union recognises the pressure pharmacists feel over “extra services coming in”.

“Lots of pressure was going to be put on pharmacists to deliver those [and] I just felt [Boots] needed some independence from the BPA,” they added.

Conflict of interest

The pharmacist believed a “conflict of interest” was apparent, because his previous line manager was also a BPA representative.

“That made me think ‘hang on, this isn’t a good place to be’, so that was another reason I joined the PDA Union.”

“Obviously the BPA and the company were closely joined together,” they added

BPA responds

In response, BPA chief executive Paul Robinson told C+D the union is “rightly proud” of its “excellent track record” of providing representation for its members.

“Any potential conflicts of interest are avoided through appropriate choice of union representative for members undergoing disciplinary procedures,” he added.

Boots declined to comment for this piece.

Did you take part in the vote?

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

Boots needs to be looked at further. Even when I qualified many years ago, fellow pharmacists warned me away from them.

A colleague of mine did his pre-reg at Boots and told me to never work for them or locum for them because of the way that he was treated.

I would advise anyone who hasn't seen it, to watch the documentary on the BBC (it's available on YouTube) about the staffing levels in Boots stores. It's called "pharmacists under pressure".

It shows a few things about Boots. They witheld information about their staffing levels. They are not transparent. *** And the guy they used to represent them looks like a complete crook, that's a Carphone Warehouse saleman if ever I have seen one. Surprise, surprise, he denied everything, and couldn't stop waving his hands around. If he approached me in street I would turn around.

These companies only care about their coffers. Even when they are investigated ***, they still use every trick in the book to get out of trouble so that they can keep stiffing the government for huge amounts of money.

The thing that really stings, though, is that a high-level whistleblower went to the GPhC with a huge amount of evidence about this. The poor staffing levels putting patients in direct danger of further incidents.

Guess what the GPhC did? NOTHING!

Why is that? How is it that a pharmacist can be suspended or reprimanded without evidence, yet even with a massive pile of evidence they will not go after Boots? Scared of the legal costs? Or is something else going on?

Something is going on behind the scenes and the sooner everyone knows about it the better. No wonder so many people in pharmacy are getting so rich whilst the rest of us are on anti-depressants. It's all about connections and corruption.

If someone could get access to certain people's emails, text messages and phonecalls, I am sure it could be figured out who is paying who.

It is interesting that a company which claims to only put patients first has systematically eroded all the measures and costs to put this in place, so that they people at the top can get richer and richer. And how much tax are Boots paying in the UK? It's a complete joke that this has allowed to happen. Boots staff and customers are in jeapardy but nobody cares as long as the people at the top with connections keep getting paid millions.

It's an utter scandal and more people need to come forward to make people aware of what is really going on in this "industry".

I genuinely believe that the top people at Boots don't care about if a patient dies, as long as their disgusting business model allows them to keep skimming millions off the top. They will always blame the responsible pharmacist anyway, and say that their staffing levels are great, which is a complete lie.

Their non-stop incessant thirst for profit reminds me of a WW2 dictator who would do anything to achieve his "final vision".

***This comment has been edited in line with C+D's community principles.***

Jenny Etches, Community pharmacist

Whilst I totally agree with the actions and outcome of this legal challenge, in defence of the BPA, they couldn’t have been more supportive and professional when I had an issue at work. Provided a brilliant representative plus other support to help me in a distressing situation. I’m sure the PDA will be able to provide the same. And I hope I never have to call on them to do so. 

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

A truly monumental moment in community pharmacy.

A Long Serving Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Respect to all six. It takes a brave employee to take on the might of a company like Boots. I hope there are no repercussions for them. 

Meera Sharma, Primary care pharmacist

Well done, can't have been easy but worth it!

SydBashford Sold&Retired&DeRegistered, Community pharmacist

Never worked for Boots, never will now either ! Well done PDA. I respect everything you have done for pharmacists. Far more than all the other “representative” organisations I have had supposedly representing us. Had I not decided to retire early (due to stroke and stress) I would probably have joined. 

R A, Community pharmacist

Wow, a pharmacist who was able to challenge Boots successfully! Respect. 

Saddened Old Timer, Community pharmacist

One brave and honourable person - along with the other 5 . 

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