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.
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.