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Staff cutbacks piling pressure on pharmacists, charity finds

People Pharmacists are working long hours and facing heavy workloads because their employers are failing to fill vacant posts within their teams, charity Pharmacist Support has found.

Pharmacists are working long hours and facing heavy workloads because their employers are failing to fill vacant posts within their teams, charity Pharmacist Support has warned.  

Pharmacists reported that MURs and customer satisfaction surveys were also resulting in a heavy workload, Pharmacy Support charity manager Diane Leicester said. Locums were finding it difficult to secure work and faced falling rates, she added.

Ms Leicester's comments came in response to University of Manchester research released last month that revealed community pharmacists have a poorer work-life balance than hospital, industry or primary care pharmacists.

"[Contractors] tend to take on more work ourselves rather than delegate because staff is the biggest overhead there is" Fin McCaul, IPF

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Independent Pharmacy Federation chair Fin McCaul agreed that financial constraints within community pharmacy meant employers were taking the "easy route" by not replacing their staff.

"I think this has been going on for quite a while now, certainly with independents – we tend to take on more work ourselves rather than delegate because staff is the biggest overhead there is," he told C+D. "While staff are a huge investment, sometimes it's difficult to see that."

Pharmacists posting on the C+D website also raised concerns about their workload. A pharmacist posting under the name How High? said: "We have ACTs but unfortunately due to staff cutbacks we have nobody to actually dispense, so we use the ACTs as expensive dispensers."

Pharmacist Reeyah H posted: "We are barely surviving as it is. We are desperate for staff. I don't even go to the toilet most days and arrive home shattered and in an awful mood."

Four in 10 respondents to the University of Manchester survey of 12,364 pharmacists across the profession said they usually worked long hours. More than a quarter said there wasn't much time to socialise, relax with their partners or see family during the week, according to the research published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.

How is understaffing affecting you?

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RB Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

and every week somebody wants pharmacists to play a bigger role in healthcare and take on new services. how on earth it is possible when already pharmacists are unable to cope with current dispensing volume and other workload. People sitting in the air conditioned offices making these plans should work in a busy pharmacy for a month with staff on holidays and then plan all these new services.

Janet NQ, Community pharmacist

Today I found out that our Pre-reg who is sitting exam later this month is not going to be replaced by another trainee. Instead they 'plan' to employ somebody or half a person, to be more precise, to 'help' in the dispensary for 2-3 hours a day.... by the way I'm working for the big fish. Feel free to guess which fish

Experiencing this in "real time". Items increased 10% over last few years, MURs increased over last few years, PROFITS increased over last few years, staffing budget decreasing year on year, 32 hours of dispensing staff holiday in the coming week told can cover 5 hours as that is all that is "budgeted", I said this is unsafe and will result in reduced service delivery, employer doesn't seem to care.... as employees how we combat this?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I have looked into pharmacies before and I have seen one pharmacist and a counter assistant making the most of a tricky situation. I have nothing but praise for these people who do a fantastic job dispite the challenges.

There is the issue where a lack of staff can affect the performance and safety of a pharmacy. Self checking can increase the risk of an error, and a pharmacist who is having to rush around is unable to devote as much time as they would like with clinical assessment and consulations.

It is unfortunate that financal pressures are often a limiting factor when it comes to delivering healthcare across the board.

Dorothy Drury, Locum pharmacist

There should be a minimum staffing ratio, based on workload and counting new services. Staff off sick , on holiday and on maternity should not be counted and PCTs should have access to fiures and checking, otherwise how can pharmacy move forward and develope.

Small Pharm Owner, Other pharmacy staff

It is all very well suggesting a minimum staffing ratio but without an increase in funding how are we supposed to cope with more overheads? I would love to make my part time dispenser full time but with cat m clawbacks, NCSO'S losses, a weaker retail climate, increased bureaucracy, stock shortages and an inability to receive discounts from certain wholesalers due to being a small pharmacy (with a small spend on certain brands) exactly can we afford this?

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Hi Dorothy,

I would agree with your idea in principal.

However I have no idea how a figure for minimum staffing could be derived. A simple X items requires Y Pharmacist hours and Z technician hours would not be practical as there are just so many other variables to add to the equation.

Even if a figure were worked out could it really be policed?

Anyway, the Multiples would use their (considerable) power and influence to oppose any such minimum staffing level in the first place.

Ian Kemp, Community pharmacist

HI Clive,
Ever read the interim GPhC standards for pharmacy owners? Section 1.11 ' Be satisfied that there are appropriate policies setting out the number of staff and their required experience and that they are made known to relevant staff '
So ALL owners should have a formula but ever heard of the GPhC making any attempt to police it .... no me neither! You might argue that the GPhC has already proved itself unfit for purpose, I couldn't possibly comment, but it will be interesting to see if anything similar ends up in the final version of the new standards.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Isn't that a new power that is being made available to them soon to maintain high standards within pharmacies?

Ian Kemp, Community pharmacist

No, nothing new about the power, just about how they use it and what standards they apply. In the new world of the GPhC it's all about outcomes not regulations/guidance so I guess that means that as long as we don't kill anyone it doesn't matter how few staff we have because the outcome will be OK. Oh and obviously if something does happen it's bound to be the Responsible Pharmacist's fault not the Superintendent Pharmacist's fault. Of course it's not the job of the GPhC to know anything about pharmacy, they're regulators not pharmacists, and I'm sure they'll come down really firmly in some areas of premises standards but staffing levels will be far too hard for them so expect them to fudge what should be the No 1 standard applied to Superintendents / Owners.

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