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Revealed: 75% of locum pharmacists report high stress levels

Eight-seven per cent of locums said their workload has increased over the past year
Eight-seven per cent of locums said their workload has increased over the past year

Three quarters of locums rate their stress levels as high, blaming an increase in workload and low staffing levels, according to the C+D Salary Survey 2019.

Of 229 locum pharmacist respondents to the survey, which ran between October 1 and November 14, 218 told C+D about their stress levels.

Seventy-five per cent said it was “very high”, “high” or “somewhat high”. This is a 14 percentage point increase on last year, when the figure was 61%.

Eighty-seven per cent of respondents reported that their workload had increased over the past year, with 42% citing reduced staff levels as the leading cause.

One locum pharmacist said they “could not cope with the levels of stress caused by low staff numbers”, and another said understaffing had left them “loathing the profession”.

Locums “often walk into pharmacies under pressure” and with “overworked staff”, which makes it harder to adapt to the new working environment, one respondent explained.

In addition to staff shortages, finding time to deliver services and sourcing medicines were highlighted as causes of stress.

“For a job that carries such high penalties when things go wrong, the working pace is absolutely brutal,” one locum respondent said.

“Not easy” to fit in services

When it comes to delivering services, 91% said it is “not that easy” or “not at all easy” to fit these around their dispensing workload, up two percentage points on last year.

One respondent said it is “imperative” to have more than one pharmacist in the pharmacy, while another commented that there is “too much to do” and “not enough staff and time in which to do it”.

A locum in England said that while they welcomed the phasing-out of medicines use reviews (MURs), this service “seems to have been replaced by a series of hoops to jump through”, such as audits and training packages.

“Diabetic health checks are a good thing, sepsis training is a good thing, but I’ve just about reached overload,” they added.

Read C+D's in-depth analysis of why stress levels are on the rise among locums here

The C+D Salary Survey 2019 – the largest UK survey of community pharmacy, and the biggest in the survey's 12-year history – ran between October 1 and November 14 and was completed by a total of 2,556 pharmacists and pharmacy staff. C+D's ongoing coverage from the survey can be found on our dedicated hub.

Search through hundreds of locum pharmacist jobs on the C+D Jobs website

C+D takes pharmacy pressures to parliament

On September 9, C+D and the charity Pharmacist Support brought together MPs, pharmacy representatives and pharmacists to discuss the rise of stress and workplace pressures among pharmacy teams.

The parliamentary event took place in Portcullis House, Westminster, and was hosted by all-party pharmacy group chair Sir Kevin Barron MP.

You can read C+D editor James Waldron’s address to the event – in which he highlighted disturbing data from C+D readers about the extent of pressures in pharmacies – as well as the key points from each speaker.

If you would like to share your experiences, please email [email protected]

Do you experience high levels of stress?

Ofcourse there are financial pressures and stock issues facing pharmacies but community pharmacy is constantly changing in terms of service provided. If you're not proactive you'll get left behind. Speaking from experience with locums as a prereg, I've come across way too many who robotically check prescription after prescription, walk up and down the dispensary twiddling their thumbs and spend the day playing on their phones. "I don't do care homes",  " I don't do EHC" "I don't do NRT vouchers" "I don't do flu" - all too common. 




Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

and why should they for 20 quid an hour??????????????

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

I have just had a rate cut of £2 per hour working for one large multiple and have had a belly full of cppe exams to take (and many more no doubt to come)all in my own time to make money for these bloated companies.I am absolutley livid at this disgusting situation.

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

and don't lecture locums about giving flu vaccines.When they pay us a fair rate and are prepared to pay for  training costs and a fair remuneration for providing a vaccine service then we can talk.....

Matthew Edwards, Community pharmacist

On the whole I agree with the sentiments expressed and feel that anyone is entitled to ask for more money.  However if the answer is no, a pharmacy owner is perfectly within their rights to not employ that locum.  If thats what is meant by blacklisting in this article then that is totally misleading and inappropriate.  What I do however have issue with is the paragraph -

"On top of this, there is the rising pressure for locums to have additional qualifications and training such as Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education modules for the Pharmacy Quality Scheme, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, flu jab training, summary care records, safeguarding, and sepsis. Locums are expected to drive business and offer services while increasing sales to create profit"

Why should locums feel that they are exempt from offering the service of a good pharmacist?  At the end of the day remuneration from dispensing has decreased over the years so if a locum is only willing to oversee the dispensing element of our daily job then the remuneration would be justifiably be less than those locums that engaged with services.  CPCS requires no further training and is therefore not an additional qualification,  SCR is a requirement of CPCS but is an essential tool for providing emergency supplies and any pharmacist that is not engaged with SCR is letting the side down.  Locums are expected to offer the professional services that the branch provides, they do not manage the business or look at how to improve it.  Flu is a national scheme and again all pharmacists should be able to offer that service under NHS terms. Private flu vaccinations is only avaqilable under private PGD and so a locum would not (and should not) be expected to do them unless the employing company covers them, which never happens.  

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

The problem here( which you seem to have missed) is that locums have had a pay cut and are still expected to provide these additional services and take on more and more

.I qualified in 1999 and was earning almost the same then as I am now!!I am far from lazy and would embrace any new services and accreditations but in no way will I feel motivated when I am paid slave wages and treated exactly like a slave.

Matthew Edwards, Community pharmacist

will post on the article i was commenting on

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Several people posting here have mentioned a lack of training for services. There is a constant dilemma for owners - do we pay to train the locum, and provide them with a skill they can then use for the benefit of others at my expense, or expect the locum to keep themselves abreast of current training requirements? Some locums invest in their own training, and hence, employability, whilst others decide not to. Comments about 'greedy owners' are unhelpful - there have been many reports in C&D relating the dire financial situation facing many owners, and I am sure you only have to be a little long in the tooth to remember that summer when there were no new registrants and many locums 'made hay while the sun shone'. It's a simple fact that owners need locums and locums need owners. Collaboration is the only way forward. Locums are seeing in increase in rates? I'm pleased for them but, in much the same expectation the Government has of contractors, contractors will want 'more bang for their buck' 

Dee dee, Community pharmacist

A modest 'increase' in rates literally of pennies. That dormant year that you talk about, the average rate was £24ph. Pharmacies still make a handsome profit regardless of the pleas of poverty that appear on here.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

You were lucky DeeDee, my rate went from £16.50 to £18 in the Midlands and there was uproar from contractors then, back in 2001, the so-called fallow year. Hardly bankers' bonus money !

Alexander The Great, Community pharmacist

You only need to see how many large multiples are closing down. Sainsburys sold their's at a good profit, smart time. Lloyds, multiple branch closures, now Boots. Good profits were 6-7yrs ago.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

But they were pleasing poverty 6-7!years ago. It's similar to a court witness saying 'I was lying before but you can believe me now'.

Alasdair Morrison, Product Development

I start my new non-community job on Monday, after spending most of the last 20 years as a locum (interrupted by a couple of spells as branch manager for each of the largest ones).

I'm sure there are aspects of community pharmacy that I'll miss, including frequent contact with patients. For all that they can be demanding and difficult sometimes, it's often a wonderful feeling to be able to help people out. Also, I'll miss working with a lot of great people.

But in the last few years, a growing frustration is the increasing specialisation of pharmacists. This is great in many ways, but as a locum there just isn't the opportunity to keep pace. So you're in one day, and the surgery staff send someone along for antibiotics for [insert name of condition here] because the *normal* pharmacist is an independent prescriber, and you have to send them back to the surgery again... It's more than a little humiliating. I got a 'proper' job 12 years ago because I felt I was getting left behind as a locum, and missing out on training and falling behind with what employee pharmacists were doing. It's happening again, and this time it's a more profound shift.

So the solution is either to get a 'proper' job in community, or work elsewhere. I chose elsewhere.

I won't miss the ever-increasing workload and stress levels. After all the above, that's the main reason I'm done with locuming. I'll take my Saturdays off, thanks, and I won't be keeping my hand in.

C A, Community pharmacist

I have a proper job in community - the company required me to go to 'flu training on Sundays and be grateful for it as they were "paying" for the training. I was told there would be no payment for my time or time in lieu, despite the fact that the DOH has an education subsidy on phamacy flu vaccine payments :(

Dario Canada, Community pharmacist

Well, they seem to have cracked the answer for it, charge £35 an hour, do a lousy job and all the stress goes away!!! And at the same time taking the Mickey out of the regular pharmacists that feel the real stress at £21. I am so sorry for them...

Dee dee, Community pharmacist

It's hard to put into words the soul destroying stress of the job. I've had enough after ten years. I literally walked out of the last pharmacy for the sake of my mental health. That was two months ago and I vow never to go back. I've saved enough to see me through til next summer and hopefully I'll be able to get a job with a path and prospects, something utterly absent in community pharmacy. Someone needs to tell the children at uni. It angers me no end that they are probably still being spoon fed the 'it's a great time to be a pharmacist' spiel. 

The root cause? There's a number. First and foremost, the insatiable greed of pharmacy owners, multiple and independent. This greed manifests as employing less than a skeleton staff. This is toxic and highly irresponsible regarding the safety of the public. Owners feel emboldened  to do this because of huge numbers of lemmings graduating, just itching to be used as canon fodder. Furthermore, the GPhC have got to be the most impotent and incompetent regulator in Europe. They'll strike Dave off for falsifying a patient survey, citing patient safety and confidence. But when it comes to the single most important issue regarding patient safety, they look the other way and mumble jibberish. 

An earlier poster alluded to it, and it's true-the best have left. Any full timer I now meet is either desperate or a can short of a six pack. The average pharmacy is now a circus. 

As they say on Dragons Den, I'm out!


Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Very well said.I'm still a full timer (of 20 years)as I'm imprisoned due to my circumstances.My attempts at escape over the past five years have been fruitless.My mental health is now rock bottom.How I wish I had the strength to break free...

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

please join the student room website and post this on there for the 6th formers and students who are still being sold "the bright clinical future, and 'you can work in a GP surgery' " Yeah, some of you can possibly, but not 3000 graduates a year! 

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Most of the stress within community pharmacy comes from  the complete abscence of intelligent design and organisation.  Most dispensaries are an utter shambles, with every task completed with a randomness and inefficiency that is comical. Compound this with the pressure to complete phoney tick-box clinical services  and you have a recipe for a high stress environment.

The simple fact is community pharmacy cannot attract the best people to intelligently design the optimum work environment, so it has been left to the staff to fire fight the constant disarray. You then have an unthinking government bureaucracy that creates a contract that only has to be seen to be making pharmacy do more for their money.

Rational intelligent design would solve the problems, it happens to be absent within the positions of power.                                                              

David Kent, Community pharmacist

When I was a locum I found that most of the stress came from the penny pinching unrealistic demands of the pharmacy owners.

anti-depressed Pharmacist, Manager

No staff no stock and multiple services you are not trained for.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Being a locum comes with a basic level of stress as you have no idea what you will be walking into each day and I accept this.  However we are now facing staff shortages, funding cuts and an increasing workload.  If a member of staff is on holiday there is rarely any cover  as companies will not pay for extra hours.  The same applies if someone is off sick.  We are no longer being beaten with the "MUR stick" as in "do them or we won't employ you again" but we have new services to juggle with - it has been highlighted in another article about the new CPCS service being rolled out without there being adequate training available.

I'm out at the end of the year as I cannot deal with the situation any more - luckily I am towards the end of my working life and am able to go.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist


All the best Joan. Only another 10/11 yrs for me to limp through if community still exists then. I would imagine by then the counter staff on minimum wage will be practically on my rate!! No pay rise in 11 and a half years and with the 5 yr funding just announced then I would imagine that's pushed that upto 2024.  

Please join The Student Room website and tell your horror stories to the 6th formers who are being fed the Kool aid by the Unis. Apparently that "bright clinical future is just over the horizon" since about 1986 I think and the Nuffield Report. It's a bit like the play 'Waiting for Godot'   Spoiler alert ..........


Never turned up!

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist


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