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Boots whistleblower reveals extent of workplace pressures

Greg Lawton left Boots in 2015 (Credit: Boots: Pharmacists under pressure? An Inside Out Special. BBC East Midlands production)

Workplace pressure was reported as a factor in more than half of dispensing incidents in one division of Boots in 2013-14, a whistleblower has claimed.

The data has been shared with C+D by Greg Lawton – a former Boots employee and the whistleblower whose concerns about safe staffing were covered in a recent BBC exposé.

Mr Lawton worked as the multiple's clinical governance pharmacist from May 2011 until he left the company in 2015. In October 2013, he also took on the role of Boots' professional standards manager.

Mr Lawton told C+D he had access to data from Boots’ “north division” – one of three divisions covering the UK – when he was analysing dispensing incidents while working as clinical governance pharmacist.

A total of 17,461 incidents were reported across the roughly 850 pharmacies in the division in 2013-14, claimed Mr Lawton, who now works as a healthcare policy consultant.

Of the 11,524 incidents in which an underlying cause was identified, 6,251 (54.2%) were at least partly attributed to 'pressure – very busy', he told C+D.

And more than a third (37%) of all 17,461 reported incidents had either ‘pressure – very busy’ selected as an underlying cause, or ‘inadequate staffing levels’, ‘pharmacist had not had a break’, or any combination of these, identified as a 'contributing factor', Mr Lawton claimed.

Boots responds

In response, Boots pointed to General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) data which showed that only 26 (1.3%) of 2,026 Boots pharmacies inspected between November 2013 and August 2017 had not met 2.1 of the GPhC's standards for registered pharmacies – “[that] there are enough staff, suitably qualified and skilled, for the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services”.

This contrasted with 2.4% of all pharmacies inspected by the regulator during the same period, Boots stressed. The multiple now employs more pharmacists than ever, it added, despite the significant cuts to pharmacy funding in England.

How does Boots decide on staffing levels?

In an exclusive interview with C+D, Mr Lawton explained why he felt compelled to raise his staffing concerns with both senior Boots management, and then the GPhC itself – which conducted an investigation in 2016 before deciding not to take further action.

In the interview, both Boots and Mr Lawton describe the model used to allocate staff to Boots branches, and Mr Lawton outlines his allegations that the model could be “wound back” if the multiple was under pressure to reduce staff expenditure.

Boots says it investigated Mr Lawton’s concerns at the time, adding that they are historical allegations that ceased to be relevant after Mr Lawton left the company in 2015.

The multiple also told C+D its staffing levels are reviewed every six months, and pointed to its confidential whistleblowing hotline as one example of how it encourages its employees to raise any concerns they may have.

You can read C+D’s in-depth interview with Greg Lawton here.

Let C+D know how you think staffing levels can be safely set – and your experiences of whether staffing is adequate in your pharmacy – by emailing us at [email protected] or tweeting @CandDLilian.

Do you feel staff pressures have ever posed a patient safety risk in your pharmacy?

Industry Pharmacist, Director

Boots is a crap company to work for as a pharmacists. If you want to be a glorified cashier selling meal deals go ahead, they make better margins on selling their own branded vitamins and sandwiches than medicines. 

Boots have been milking the NHS for decades and they will continue to do so by exploiting staff and their professional registrations by not adequately supporting them. I'm glad they are not receiving subsidies or more funding because they and other multiples will have to sell up and leave so that independents can thrive and actually produce real cost savings to the NHS and better working conditions. They don't have incompetent 'middle managers' sucking the revenue from the business with their endless unnecessary target chasing, MUR, MUR, MUR, FLU, FLU, FLU....


Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager


With the amount of dispensing Mr Lawton did since registration, is he qualified to comment on this subject?


Saddened Old Timer, Community pharmacist

After watching the documentary and reading the article I think his points are spot on. I have worked as a pharmacist, pharmacist manager with an occasional foray into regional/area roles where I supported pharmacists and think it's actually worse now than when he originally raised his concerns. I’m very disappointed with some of the snidey comments I read on here, not worthy of professional people in my opinion. 

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Doesn't matter anyway. Nobody with any authority to act or comment is bothered.

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

He calls himself some sort of a safety consultant nowadays, he obviously prefers jobs with no dispensing content, and I bet he hopes the BBC programme will give his business a lift.

Boom Shakalaka, Locum pharmacist

What's the point of this?
Nothing will change!

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Let's face it that things have always been tight and won't get any better, hardly a news scoop. I'm afraid it's business as usual even for Healthcare Policy Consultants...same old...same old....x


Anyway the public, government and regulators could not give a flying fig so better get used to it and look at other avenues.

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Boots must be right. The GPhC say all is fine so all must be ok. Has to be a rogue ex-employee. Surely?!

Saddened Old Timer, Community pharmacist

These petty posts which seem to be a personal attack on someone who has stuck to his principles of being a healthcare professional and done the right thing have made me quite angry. Perhaps now we have GPhC standards rather than a Code of Ethics individuals don't think they need to aspire to such a high standard. Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected when they highlight and expose areas of risk, if we then vilify them when they do we demean ourselves and our profession. No wonder our profession is in such a mess if that's the attitude pharmacists adopt when dealing with risks to our patients and pharmacists wellbeing. 



Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Whistleblower may not be the accurate term, is he just scaremongering or is he simply someone who crumbles under the slightest pressure. He was keen to do jobs that involved no coal face dispensing. Ummm ...

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

Well put!

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Mmmmm wonder why Mr L really left Boots, now a Healthcare Policy Consultant.......I'd struggle to see how working for Boots that just dispenses medicines would experience someone as Policy Consultant ...


Just made up a new title for myself too Healthcare Policy Consultant...thank you!!

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Another thought - the data he has from Boots - theft of commercially sensitive information? Sounds like Ftp referral to me

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

OK, so he shopped Boots to the GPhC then left. Then he shopped Boots (and, potentially, the GPhC) to the BBC. Now he's bleating on to C&D. What next - standing at Hyde Park Corner with a placard saying "Look at me! Here I am!"?

Abid P, Primary care pharmacist

"Boots says it investigated Mr Lawton’s concerns at the time, adding that they are historical allegations that ceased to be relevant after Mr Lawton left the company in 2015."

Ceased to be relevant because the whistleblower left the company. Totally ridiculous. He wasn't the source of the issue so how can it be classed as irrelevant if he left?

Saddened Old Timer, Community pharmacist

To a degree they are true, the claims aren't currently relevant - colleagues tell me things are a lot worse now than 2 years ago . 

Sunny Jim, Pharmacy Buyer

This is what happens when you have a cartel....Can’t see how the public benefit when Two company’s have 50% of the NHS market.... open up the nhs market, stop government subsidies...

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