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Pharmacy workforce challenges 'going to get worse', warns CCA chief

Mr Harrison: General practice recruitment drive might be taking people away from pharmacy
Mr Harrison: General practice recruitment drive might be taking people away from pharmacy

As pharmacies report recruitment challenges, there are a number of factors on the horizon which will make the workforce situation worse, the CCA's chief executive has told C+D.

In September this year, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) asked pharmacy bodies to explain what steps they are taking to address inadequate staffing levels. The regulator had been prompted to take action after it identified its premises standard – which requires pharmacies to have “enough staff, suitably qualified and skilled, for the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services” – as one of the most commonly failed areas in inspections for the second quarter in a row.

Speaking exclusively to C+D last month (November 16), Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) – which represents the UK's largest multiples and supermarket pharmacies – said: “We’re starting to see a decline in the number of people entering into community pharmacy.”

And “there are a number of things on the horizon” which will make the workforce situation worse, he warned, including changes to tax regulations for locums trading as limited companies, Brexit, and the drop in the number of pharmacy students.

The University of Sussex’s consultation, on whether to close its school of pharmacy due to low uptake of the MPharm degree, is something “I have not heard of before in my time as a pharmacist”, Mr Harrison added.

He suggested that the rise of the “gig economy” could also mean potential pharmacy students are looking to qualify with a degree that “gives more opportunity to be flexible, to move between professions, careers and sectors, [not] just within pharmacy”.

The “massive recruitment drive for general practice” and the greater opportunities for pharmacists to work in other medical professions “might [also] be taking people away from community pharmacy”, he added.

The workforce situation “is only going to get worse unless something changes”, Mr Harrison stressed.

Read Mr Harrison’s views on safe staffing in community pharmacy in C+D’s exclusive interview.

Who is reporting workforce challenges?

Community Pharmacy Wales tells C+D that “contractors report difficulty in recruiting pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, and also difficulties in obtaining locum cover” in the country.

Community Pharmacy Scotland informs the GPhC that “many pharmacies cannot find enough locums” to fill posts left by “a shortage of pharmacists”.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society's director of education warns C+D that pharmacies in the south of England and London are struggling to recruit pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

Have you faced recruitment challenges in your pharmacy in the last year?

"He suggested that the rise of the 'gig economy' could also mean potential pharmacy students.. ..move between professions, careers and sectors".

Absolutely. With pharmacist wages as such a historic low potential students would be better off working for Uber, or Deliveroo or setting themselves up as You reap what you sow and the way some pharmacists are being treated now is quite frankly disgraceful.

Paul's comment is spot on. Such a change might be bad for some employers but it will not be bad for the profession.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

Why would you have difficulty attracting anyone to an understaffed and overworked pharmacy where your professional reputation is on the line? If you can't see beyond your nose, then the carcass of what was once a real and proud profession will remain that way.

Tohidul Islam, Locum pharmacist

Well if CCA members want to attract more pharmacists they simply need to improve how they treat their pharmacists. This includes better rights at work, better access to union and better salary. if they want to attract the best locums then simply don't treat them like garbage, train the coordinators how to be more civilised and professional when dealing with locums and offer respectable rates and training support. We can't treat pharmacists badly on one hand and then complain about pharmacists not wanting to remain in the profession. I'm sorry but it doesn't take a genius to work out why so many pharmacists are leaving community pharmacy and why so many students are choosing other careers. We're not attracting them because we're not offering anything attractive.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I'm sure that the CCA look upon a possible decrease in pharmacist numbers being a problem for them, but I challenge the view that this is a problem for the profession. Pharmacist salaries have been in decline in the past decade enabling the multiples to hold the whip hand over the newly qualified, as well as being able to "dispose" of older more experienced and therefore more expensive colleagues. A reduction in the number of pharmacists registering each year should be welcomed by the profession as a whole, if not the upper management of the foreign owned multiples.


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