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Link minimum staffing levels to volume or turnover, 'many' tell GPhC

Minimum staffing levels would alleviate pressure and stress levels, respondents told GPhC
Minimum staffing levels would alleviate pressure and stress levels, respondents told GPhC

“Many” respondents to a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) consultation have called for “minimum staffing levels” based on dispensing volume or turnover.

Of the 831 responses to the regulator’s consultation on “ensuring a safe and effective pharmacy team” – which ran from July-October 2017 – “many wanted to see…the establishment of minimum staffing levels based on the volume of prescriptions or the turnover of the pharmacy”, it said in council papers published last week (March 6).

This would “ensure patient safety and alleviate the pressure and stress levels currently experienced by pharmacy staff”, the respondents said.

Ensuring a safe team

In its original consultation document, published in July 2017, the GPhC included a statement that pharmacy managers must “understand how to manage appropriately any personal or organisational goals, incentives or targets without compromising safe and effective care”.

Pharmacy professionals must also be “supported and empowered to handle challenging situations confidently and professionally, whether that means having the right conversations with managers, or knowing that when a concern is raised, action will be taken as appropriate”, the GPhC added at the time.

Eighty-five percent of the individuals and 78% of the organisations which responded to the consultation agreed the proposed guidance – which included the statements above, along with recommendations on pharmacy staff training – “adequately covered the key areas [necessary] to ensure a safe and effective team”.

“However, there were a number of suggestions on how [the guidance] could be improved,” the GPhC noted.

When it came to “recognising and acting on specific pressures in pharmacy”, the GPhC noted that “opinions were more strongly held by individual respondents” than by organisations.

“They felt that workplace pressures – such as long working hours, the increasing workload of individual pharmacists, funding cuts and insufficient time for training – would hinder the implementation of the guidance.”

Pressures a “really important issue”

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday (March 13), GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin told C+D workplace pressures are a “really important issue” to the regulator.

“It’s important that people see it’s an issue that’s taken seriously and is being worked on through every opportunity we have,” he said.

“There is more to do on the safe and effective team guidance, in terms of getting to the bottom of what people are telling us,” he added.

“There’s certainly quite a lot of issues that are relevant to workplace pressures and staffing levels – and the linked issue of how different members of the team are deployed in terms of skills mix.”

Why did the GPhC launch the consultation?

The GPhC's consultation was prompted by a range of work over the last five years, including a series of online workshops on “what quality means in pharmacy practice”, and feedback from its consultations on professional and educational standards, the regulator told C+D at the time.

It was the first time the GPhC had set out in proposed guidance what pharmacy owners should do to ensure non-registrant managers understand their responsibilities, and the responsibilities of the wider pharmacy team, it added.

Do you think minimum staffing levels should be tied to dispensing volume?

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

I think working under pressure is fact of life, one just have to accept it. There is a lack of evidence linking pressure at work with errors or safety. This does, however, appeal to those pharmacists who like the work title but not the work content. My own personal experience, having frequently worked single handed and without technician help frequently, you can say I have been stressed on numerous occassions, but my error rate is much lower than some locums I came across of late. Linking staff expenditure with volume of work is not helpful, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link - we pharmacists as a group, have some internal issues to address.

O J, Community pharmacist

Close down the dispensary if you feel you it's unsafe. You don't have to work under pressure. University don't tell us that, but go ahead and do it. I have done many times. As long as there is a reasonable explanation no one can pin you down. Good Luck !

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

Close down the dispensary, and close down your job.

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

We work in the caring medical profession. There are limitations to risk, patient safety should be a priority. If more pharmacists had the, to close the pharmacies where they clearly sre putting patient safety at risk, then there will be a voice and someone WILL listen. Remember you are also putting your career at risk by working in these conditions. Then so be it for those taking this risk. And employers know the weaknesses and EXPLOIT them.  

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

We are talking about fantasy-land pharmacy here. If you close the pharmacy down you will probably get sacked for gross misconduct if you are an employee, and never get booked again if you are a locum! Love from my family and friends is nice, but it doesn't pay the bills.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

So, did the C+D interviewer ask Mr. Rudkin what exactly the GPhC are doing about it, given that the issue "is being worked on through every opportunity we have".

Brian Austen, Senior Management

I would suggest that it is the responsibility and accountability of a Superintendent Pharmacist for reasons of Clinical Governance, Quality Assurance and patient safety that minimum staffing levels are detailed in SOPs.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Why, given there are over 14,000 pharmacists, did only 831 respond?

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I thought we had "minimum" staffing - there is a table in the Drug Tariff. Is this not applicable any more?

Ben Merriman, Community pharmacist

That table no longer applies to English contractors as it was part of the Practice Payment scheme.  After the restructuring of the CPCF to include an (almost) all- ncompassing Single Activity Fee, this no longer applies.

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

No, it is not applicable. Pharmacists are now doing blood pressure monitoring, diabetes screening, health checks, MURs, NMS, chlamydia treatment, EHC consultations, cholesterol checks, and more. What is in the drug tariff is only for dispensing, currently useless.

Brian Austen, Senior Management

I wouldn't say that the Drug Tariff is useless. There is lots of useful information in it for pharmacists and contractors.

amardeep bindra, Community pharmacist

We don't need minimum staffing levels in 3 years time, when the GPhC have procrastinated on it. We need it now, or patients will be facing potential risks. I love the fact that the key issue is being recognised, but lets have a bit more commitment please!

GPhC need to face up to the fact that the big pharmacy multiples are trying to get away with totally inadequate staffing in most branches to maximise profits.

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