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Pharmacy recruitment issues may contribute to staffing level concerns

All five organisations said they would consult with members and respond to the GPhC on staffing
All five organisations said they would consult with members and respond to the GPhC on staffing

Difficulties in recruiting pharmacy staff and finding locum cover could be contributing to contractors’ staffing level concerns, Community Pharmacy Wales has suggested.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) wrote to five pharmacy organisations across the sector after evidence collected “over recent months” revealed its premises standard – which requires pharmacies to have “enough staff, suitably qualified and skilled, for the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services” – was one of the most common areas failed in pharmacy inspections, for the second quarter in a row.

This standard was not met by 29 pharmacies between April and June 2018 – two more than over the previous three months, the regulator said in its latest council meeting papers.

The GPhC wrote to the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) – which represents the UK’s largest multiples – the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS), and Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) earlier this month, to ask what steps their members are taking to meet its standards on staffing.

All five organisations confirmed to C+D they have received the letter from the regulator, and are collating information from their members to send to the GPhC.

Recruitment challenges

When asked by C+D how much of an issue staffing is, and how its members measure staffing levels, Russell Goodway, CPW chief executive, said: “Individual contractors will staff their pharmacies to suit the conditions on the ground.”

However, in some parts of the country, “contractors report difficulty in recruiting pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, and also difficulties in obtaining locum cover”, he added.

The organisation has circulated details of the GPhC’s letter to contractors and “requested their input to assess the situation across Wales”, Mr Goodway said.

Caroline Rooks, CPS public affairs officer, said the organisation’s members “vary in size and locations, which creates completely different requirements in terms of ways of working”.

CPS is “more than willing” to work more closely with the GPhC “to fully understand the extent and nature of the challenges” in relation to staffing outlined in the letter, she added.

Patient safety remains priority

Helga Mangion, NPA policy manager, said: “Despite funding pressures placing more strain on community pharmacy, pharmacy teams continue to provide excellent patient-centred care.

“Patient safety will always be the priority for local pharmacies,” she added, and said the NPA is “supportive of the new pharmacy team guidance set by the GPhC”.

The CCA did not confirm how much of an issue staffing is for its members, but chief executive Malcom Harrison said the organisation is “committed” to working with the GPhC and “welcomes [the regulator’s] recent intervention on the important issue of safe and effective pharmacy teams”.

“We already have an open dialogue with the regulator and are keen to continue supporting their work in this area.”

Diane Moss, AIMp general manager, said the organisation would be “considering [its] response” at its next board meeting, and will be responding to the GPhC once it has gathered relevant information from its members.

The GPhC published guidance on ensuring a safe and effective pharmacy team in June, which includes what pharmacy owners are expected to do in relation to safe staffing.

What is contributing to staffing level concerns in your pharmacy?

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

If working in a UK community pharmacy wasn't such a degrading, demoralising, stressful and unpleasant experience, there would be no recruitment problems. As such, being forced to produce useless services by someone with 2 GCSEs, being paid buttons, not allowed proper breaks on 12 hour shifts, and having to work in pharmacies with unsafe staffing levels are enough to put anyone off. Luckily pharmacists will have a masters degree so can find meaningful employment elsewhere.

If pharmacists were treated with respect by both their employer and the patients, and paid enough to obtain a mortgage on a small UK property, I doubt there would be any issues.

However, after working excessive hours, being called constantly on your days off, being refused a bonus whilst seeing some Euro-twit swanking around on a super yacht because of our labours is enough to put anyone off for life. Pharmacy must be the worst career option in the world, they trick you into thinking that you are a qualified and educated professional, then treat you like something they scraped off their shoe.

And then there's the "regulator" who will go out of their way to destroy your career for an error or misdemeanor whilst your employer is totally immune, despite being the one forcing you to work under such conditions. You couldn't make this stuff up.

And I understand that newly-qualifieds may feel that they are heavily invested in pharmacy after 5 years to get on the register. But NEWSFLASH: you can get a lot more money for a lot less grief in many, many jobs with your masters degree. Working as a pharmacist in the UK is the utter pits.

Find something you're good at and capitalise on it, set up a business. Forget CPD and revallidation, forget stupid GPhC fees, forget customer complaints because you took 8 minutes to dispense a script, and best of all, forget these senior pharmacy people who don't care about you and just want to get their hands on as much money as possible from the work that YOU are doing.

R A, Community pharmacist

In retrospect, I think my generation was done a huge disservice of being encouraged to go to University. Through work, I've realised that with the exception of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, vet med and optometry other professions such as a lawyer, accountant and surveyor do not need to go to university to qualify. You can do it on the job.

The best thing is if 6 months down the line you realise that you've made a mistake then you look for something new. Unfortunately as a pharmacist you've made a five-year investment of your life with tuition fees reaching an eye-watering sum of  £36,000 plus your loans for living costs. This makes it difficult to switch careers.    

I know loans from student loan company are not payable immediately but for many people, they probably have borrowed money from elsewhere because the loans from student loan company would not be sufficient even if you can claim the full amount during the four years. This makes it hard to quit because your earnings are eaten away from your current living cost and the need to pay your loans.

To make a career switch one would have to get some experience in another field such as an internship allowing you to get experience and network. An internship is highly sought after by individual meaning that companies don't pay an intern or a token amount i.e. £20 per day. Given the situation, only the wealthiest individuals can look to make a career switch or those who can rely on family support. Not sure if that is an option for most people.


R A, Community pharmacist

In places like Wales rural location isn't really the issue. The change in the ownership structure of community pharmacy and the toxic environment are the underlying reasons why it is difficult to recruit pharmacists.

In the past, people were happy to relocate to a rural location for a chance to own their own pharmacy and work in a more laid-back environment. Fast move to current time most of the viable stores are in the hands of multiples which have reduced staffing hour making it a very stressed out environment to work in. The notion that it is difficult to recruit support staff in a rural location is absolute poppycock. Most people in rural location are forced to commute considerable distance for work. The truth is they are probably offering zero hour contract/8 hours a week which is not exactly a viable option for most people. 

Saddened Old Timer, Community pharmacist

Parts of Wales have traditionally been difficult to recruit for over the last 20-30 years so this is nothing new. What is different is that now employers have taken away enhanced salary packages to  encourage pharmacists to relocate to these areas. Combine that with the fact that the multiples in particular are often very unpleasant environments in which to work and this exacerbated the issues. 

Sue Per, Locum pharmacist

The fact is that the "fat cat" management want a large slice of the remuneration pot, leaving litttle for the hard working pharmacists and staff at the coal face, hence the low morale, high turnover, and defection in the profession. If they dangled a sweet fat succulent carrot, instead of building their reserves, they would all return in droves.

Captain FX is spot on, Standard of service and patient safety cannot be compromised at all, and if the GPHC deem a pharmacy to be a dangerous premisis to work in, they should shut it down!!!!   

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

There are plenty of more rewarding(financially and mentally) jobs outside of community pharmacy

CAPT FX, Locum pharmacist

29 Pharmacies my foot. Did someone just say Pharmacy teams are delivering excellent patient care service? I have just finished, and I have watched at least four patients walking out in disgust. In so doing they were mouthing toilet epithets which I can't repeat on this hallowed platform. They had been waiting for 15 minutes to buy two boxes of Paracetamol 16s. They opted to go to the supermarkets.

Both the GPHC and the various employment organisations have no idea what they are talking about. At times I wonder if the GPHC is a regulator for this country or some parallel universe. As a regulator, they set the standards and whoever fails, gets penalised like they do with Registrants. They are not part of an association where experiences are shared. How contractors deal with employment issues is none of their business. They set the standards, and everyone meets them.
Is it any surprise that every registrant thinks they effectively the HR department of the NPA

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

From my understanding The GPhC are only there to protect the public. I'm sure they would clarify this with a simple phone call or email.

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Headline - Pharmacy recruitment issues may contribute to staffing level concerns.

Fact. Oppertunities for pharmacists to get a 'more rewarding or more enjoyable" career outside community pharmacy have never been greater.

Fact. Employee community pharmacist earnings and locum earnings are lower in real terms than ever before.

Fact. Qualified technicians are being "targeted" for redundancy.

Fact. Financial pressures on employers to reduce staffing costs and work with a do more with less attitude is at an all time high.

So no wonder why recruitment issues are a fact of life.

Glad to hear that the response from the NPA / CCA / AIMp was so comprehesive and reassuring.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Staffing levels? Unbelievable.

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