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'My pharmacy staff didn't eat all day as they could not stop work'

What happened to pharmacies in spring 2020 was “like sleep paralysis”, says The Contractor

Pharmacies have not received the recognition they deserve after suffering a nightmarish year of non-stop work, The Contractor says in the wake of C+D Salary Survey 2020 findings

It was a quiet Saturday morning in February 2020 and a woman walked into my pharmacy with a terrible cough. Alongside the usual questions, I asked her for her travel history. She had come from Denmark in the previous 10 days.

Even though I knew Denmark wasn’t one of the countries that was on “the list” to look out for back then, her symptoms seemed unusual, including an extreme cough, fatigue and fever spanning over a week. She even knew about COVID-19 but had decided to pop in to see us anyway.

As soon as she left, I called Public Health England (PHE). I felt I needed to report this woman’s symptoms and see if any COVID-19 cases had emerged from the other passengers on her flight from Denmark. The PHE gentleman did not take me seriously. He said: “Madam, I don’t think what has happened in Italy will happen here.” Those words still haunt me today.

What happened to pharmacies after that was like sleep paralysis – a nightmare you could not wake up from. We could not close shop and run virtual clinics like the GPs. We had to be the tangible source of healthcare and take over the day-to-day health work from everyone else. Overnight, pharmacists became dentists, doctors, opticians and psychiatrists rolled into one stressed NHS entity.

The incessant phone calls from distressed patients who were unable to get access to healthcare was simply unfathomable. Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) referrals became even more obscure than before. Everyone wanted a delivery. Staff started to feel the impacts of the stress and it was the contractor’s responsibility to keep them well and safe, with minimal financial help from external bodies.

After closing time, we worked every day to finish the workload while all my staff – and even their offspring – were delivering medicines. Even the most resilient of us started to crack.

I remember staff not eating all day, as we just couldn’t stop working. One day we all forgot about a huge fridge line order worth hundreds of pounds that was left sitting outside the fridge. I could feel the stress bubbling away, but I couldn’t think about financial losses right now – we had patients to deal with like we always do.

Fast forward 11 months and nothing has changed. It’s shocking that we do all the work, yet any cash advances given to us are still a loan. The government has made it a near-impossible task to let pharmacies vaccinate for COVID-19 like they do with the flu. The authorities have even let buses get used as vaccinating hubs and non-clinical settings like places of worship, but not pharmacies.

It’s clear to me as a contractor that the government does not see us as part of the NHS, and perhaps never will. We’ve delivered (literally!) and now it seems we will have to return the ‘gifted’ cash from last year.

We don’t have the money lying around, so we will have to draw from our government COVID-19 Bounce Back Loans or cut the hours of yet another much-needed staff member. The cogs keep turning in pharmacy, but we don’t ever seem to move.

The financial deficit from years back is now hitting contractors harder with all the extra costs incurred from the pandemic. Volunteer medicines delivery drivers were never going to last. Even though some payment for deliveries is welcome, it is simply not enough.

Pharmacists have always gone the extra mile but it’s about time we got some fuel from the government so we can keep going. Drug prices are rising again, profits have dropped, staff are falling ill and emergency staff are being hired at extra costs. Pharmacies just keep digging deeper into their own pockets to keep everything running.

I actually felt that maybe now, after a major global pandemic, our efforts would finally get noticed. Unbelievably, it seems the government still cannot see our worth and all that we have done during the hardest time in recent history.

The Contractor is an independent pharmacy owner in England

Read C+D’s feature on the impact of stress on pharmacy contractors in 2020


Kamran Safdar, Locum pharmacist

When it comes to Pharmacy (more so in community, than in hospital) It's always the governments fault or someone else. When will Pharmacy learn to say no, these conditions aren't safe we must have a break and stop relying on the kids and spouses  to help out.  It was lucky it was just medicines left out of the fridge and not a dispensing error that could have lead to injury or death. Working late to get work done - I don't know any profession who does that...

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Are you serious? Let me spell it out. IT WAS THE START OF A PANDEMIC. Just by your comment I can tell you're not a contractor. 

edit to add : noticed locum next to your name. Says it all. 


Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

What are you all arguing over? I'm pretty sure the contractor wasn't sending out 5 year olds for deliveries. Increasing deliveries was actually safer all round as less footfall was keeping everyone safer. It's a pandemic. Pharmacies always go the extra mile. Some don't want to tell their patients to **** off. Some of us can live without food for a few hours. Most of the comments by locums are ludicrous. When are you going to stop putting contractors down? You need to realise we are all in the same boat. We win, you won. Stop the whinging and whining or get your own pharmacy and write your articles about how rich you are. 

M. Rx(n), Student


TC PA, Community pharmacist

Getting staff and their children to deliver medicines is ridiculous. It also invalidates their insurance unless they have business cover.

Some pharmacies need to learn to say no to people who don't need deliveries. Fair enough if they genuinely can't out or it is something urgent (not a pack of statins or aspirin). We found a large majority of requests for deliveries were from people who were quite capable of collecting or had relatives who could. Failing that, we signposted them to the local council who'd set up a phone line for people needing help (in line with the pandemic delivery service) and they organised a volunteer. Only when everything else had been tried, we then agreed to deliver. I'm not aware of losing any patients thus far as a result of this policy once we had explained the options and the fact that the pharmacy was only letting in a controlled number of people.

You can't keep providing services for nothing if you can't afford to and expect the government to suddenly give you recognition.

M. Rx(n), Student

Adam Smith's invisible hand cones to mind. As the system depends on the individual business perspicacity of a given contractor, the government will help out where it can but leave the system to its wits.

Something the Average Joe locum or employee Pharmacist is also well acquainted with at the hands of...

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

You cannot have people working all day without eating. Close for 30 minutes and take the phone off the hook. If anyone complains tell them to f**k off.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

And that would automatically mean no more bookings for the locum or start the ball rolling for dismissal of an employee pharmacist.

M. Rx(n), Student

If the Contractor cannot do this, imagine what the Average Joe Pharmacist has been putting up with lo these many years to "stay out of trouble'.

They have been met with supposed feedback from staff suggesting:
"inability to prioritize well" and "poor time management".

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Contractor wouldn't want that as he's concerned with the till being rung up. I wonder what sort of wages he pays ? £8 an hour dispenser ?

Dhimant Patel, Community pharmacist

I've never posted on C&D comments before but I felt I had to reply. I'm a contractor and we didn't close, not for a single hour, as we felt we owed it to patients to remain there for them. My staff wage is set to a minimum £9.30 and my very good locum travels 160 miles round trip, 4 days a week is paid £25 (plus travel).

This generalisation that all contractors are money grabbing is completely wrong. I did anything I could, probably naively as it came at a huge cost to the business, to ensure my staff and patient were not affected by coronovirus. I stayed at the pharmacy alongside other staff (who volunteered to stay but still paid overtime) sometimes for up to 14 hours a day.

Your comments are clearly posted to incite angry responses, so well done. Just didn't thonk people would still do that in the middle of a pandemic, especially on a discussion board for a profession they are employed within.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I was exaggerating to make an obvious point which is that pharmacists have a duty to look after themselves and their staff, you cannot let everyone work themselves into a state of hyper-exhaustion and fall ill. 

 I'm a polite sort of chap and probably wouldn't actually have told someone to eff off,  but some patients do need home truths pointed out to them and I wouldn't hesitate to do so

M. Rx(n), Student

Or just like you, he's also merely posting based on experience and observations.
A generalisation does not imply no exceptions.

Pharm Druggist, Community pharmacist

Can't believe this illogical response, arguing in semantics about how generalisations do not imply no exceptions, in order to validate the statement! I hope you never feel the injustice that comes with being tarred with the same brush by a sweeping statement. This is something I would have thought Benie would understand, being a BAME pharmacist. Clearly not you though

M. Rx(n), Student

Strangely the larger point eluded you. But I suppose your biases just as much blinded you to the subtext of the poster Bernie's sentiments.

But I think he's thick-skinned enough to realise his voice is in the minority on this forum.

Pharm Druggist, Community pharmacist


I wasn't addressing the original poster and agree 100% with, "You cannot have people working all day without eating. Close for 30 minutes and take the phone off the hook. If anyone complains tell them to f**k off."  - Is this the larger point? What bias? As opposed to your "non-bias"?

Stop strawmanning. Even a child would know it's wrong to generalise. Especially in support of an argument, you just sabotage yourself. No matter how sheltered your upbringing, surely you've been through experiences where you have suffered from negative stereotyping/generalisations. 


M. Rx(n), Student

Try reading the poster Bernie's "generalisation" with your biases in check. Your might get his sentiment. His BAME background will not matter a jot to his greater point

Pharm Druggist, Community pharmacist

"And that would automatically mean no more bookings for the locum or start the ball rolling for dismissal of an employee pharmacist." - No one on this thread is saying this is acceptable, and if actioned, I would wholehartedly join in condemning that. Are my biases in check now?

"A generalisation does not imply no exceptions." - I was saying Benie would understand with hindsight that generalising is unhelpful. Unfortunately something that you are still unable to grasp

M. Rx(n), Student

Read that sentence in the context of the preceding one. You may be able to successfully infer that I believe Bernie's "generalisation" is based on his own experience and observations over many years like anyone's. So like I already said, you missed a larger point -(by taking a sentence out of context) . Sheesh.

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