Earlier this year, C+D revealed the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on contractors, locums and pharmacists’ physical and mental health. Unfortunately, pharmacy staff were not able to escape the impact and they too faced the effects of increased workload, staffing issues and a surge in demand from patients.
Perhaps where the difference lies, however, is that many of the accuracy checking pharmacy technicians (ACPTs), pharmacy technicians and dispensary assistants who responded to C+D's Salary Survey 2020 felt their hard work during the pandemic has largely gone unrecognised, leaving them feeling unappreciated.
Stress impacting patient care
According the C+D Salary Survey 2020 – which ran from October 19 to December 10 – just over four-fifths (84%) of the 103 ACPTs who responded reported elevated stress levels, describing them as “somewhat high”, “high” or “very high”.
Almost all ACPT respondents (96%) said their workload had increased in the past year, with reduced staff levels named the biggest contributing factor in 24% of cases.
And of these, 52% named stress as the factor that most impacts the service they give to patients.
Four-fifths (79%) said staffing levels in their pharmacy were not “adequate”, with one respondent commenting that where they work the “pharmacist has no support most afternoons and evenings”.
Another ACPT said low staffing levels means that when someone in the pharmacy is off sick or on holiday, the rest of the team has to “stay later, come in earlier [or forgo] breaks – so more stress”.
An overwhelming majority (84%) of ACPTs said they had thought about leaving their job in the previous 12 months. Of these, 57% had actively looked for a new role.
As many as 72% of ACPTs did not feel appreciated at work, reporting that they feel “not that valued” or “not at all valued” by their employer.
“Not enough hours in the day”
Nearly all (93%) of the 97 pharmacy technicians who responded to C+D’s Salary Survey said their workload had increased in the past year, with reduced staff levels named the single biggest contributor – selected in 24% of cases.
COVID-19 was also highlighted as a factor behind the heavier workload, with one respondent commenting that the pandemic had “increased the need for [a] delivery service and paperwork” and another that “GPs referring all patients to pharmacy and not stepping up” had played a part.
A majority (61%) of respondents described their workload as “often” or “always unrealistic”, with one commenting that: “There are not enough hours in the day for the workload or enough staff. But our dispensary is so small it can't cope with extra bodies in there either.”
As many as 83% of respondents said they had thought about leaving their job in the past 12 months.
“Not enough support for pharmacy staff”
A total of 147 dispensary assistants responded to the C+D Salary Survey, with 90% reporting “very high”, “high” or “somewhat high” stress levels in 2020.
Nearly all (98%) of the respondents said their workload had increased over the past year, with reduced staff being the biggest contributing factor for the majority (27%) of these.
One respondent commented: “Counter assistants have been taken away from pharmacies, putting more on dispensers. We serve, answer phones, label, make scripts up, check and put away orders and make up planograms.”
Another said they felt their pharmacy was “permanently short staffed” and staffing levels were “based on items, not actual workload”.
“[The] workload has more than doubled due to COVID-19,” another claimed and yet there is “not enough support or recognition for pharmacy staff”, another argued.
More than 75% of dispensers said they were “not that” or “not at all” valued by their employer.
“Patients and communities value you”
In response to the C+D Salary Survey findings, Liz Fidler, president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), said the organisation had heard similar experiences from its members during the pandemic.
“The results demonstrate the recognised contribution that pharmacy technicians and ACPTs make and the increase in workload needs to be reflected in workforce sustainability plans.
“There is a key message around employer support and making teams feel valued, that should be seriously considered,” she added.
“APTUK has been so proud of the emails we have regarding teamwork and in particular how versatile and pivotal the profession has been supporting pharmaceutical services [during the pandemic]. Your patients and communities really value what you do,” Ms Fidler stressed.
Ms Fidler pledged: “APTUK will continue to work with key partners to look at how we grow the pharmacy technician workforce and support them to feel valued working as another registered professional in community pharmacy.”
“The past year will continue to affect me”
Nadia MacMurray, dispenser at JM&W Darling Ltd in South Shields and founder of the The Pharmacy Dispensers Network, said she was not surprised by the C+D Salary Survey findings “at all”.
“The past year has taken its toll on the whole pharmacy team,” she told C+D.
“My personal experience of 2020 has been one that will forever stay with me and, possibly, continue to affect me. No doubt the same is true of my community pharmacy colleagues.
“The lack of staff, and support from management, are complaints we hear often from the dispensers that contact us. The health and wellbeing of all members of the pharmacy team should always be a priority,” she added.
Ms MacMurray said she turns to her family for support during particularly stressful times, but she is also fortunate to work in a pharmacy with “a very supportive owner and a manager who is open and approachable”.
“Having those helps more than they will ever know,” she added.
The C+D Salary Survey 2020 – the largest UK survey of community pharmacy – ran between October 19 and December 10 and was completed by a total of 1,667 pharmacists and pharmacy staff. C+D's coverage from the survey can be found on our dedicated hub.