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‘Treat vital locum pharmacists putting their lives in danger fairly’

Locum pharmacists are being used as a scapegoat for pharmacy, which has much larger problems, says Tohidul Islam

COVID-19 has hit the world like an earthquake. It has caused panic the world over and overwhelmed public health services. Pharmacists, as frontline health workers, are at extremely high risk of contracting it.  There’s already been more than one pharmacist death and many more have symptoms.

Pharmacy teams sometimes work with no personal protective equipment (PPE). In some cases not only have we not had access to PPE, but I have heard of companies that have threatened staff with disciplinary action if they use the equipment as it would “scare the patients”. You would think large companies would care enough about their staff to go the extra mile and source PPE, but you’d be wrong.

While many employed pharmacists are off work due to COVID-19, the locum workforce are filling in these vital positions – ensuring pharmacies can continue to operate and support patients.

Due to the unprecedented health crisis, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) temporarily registered over 6,000 pharmacists and technicians who had left the register. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are sending pharmacists to support community pharmacies and companies have redeployed their independent prescriber pharmacists to the frontline.

The GPhC has relaxed supervision regulation to allow already dispensed items to be handed out in emergency cases where a pharmacist has had to leave due to having COVID-19 symptoms. On top of this, many pharmacies are now closing on weekends and opening shorter hours during the week. A lot of previously 100-hour pharmacies are now only open for 40 hours a week.

These factors have led to many locums not being able to find work in recent weeks, even when they are available.

Adding to the short-term surplus of locums, the GPhC statement on March 19 about some locum pharmacists “profiteering” from the pandemic has given many companies an excuse to take the statement out of context and report locums for asking for rates that were previously accepted as normal.

I’ve even seen emails from a director of one of the largest locum agencies in the UK threatening locums who attempted to negotiate higher rates. They reported a number of locums to the GPhC for asking for higher rates.

While I would never condone profiteering, I do sympathise with the pharmacists asking for fair rates who are willing to drive for hours to work under heavy pressure with very little staff support, no PPE and the risk of contracting COVID-19.

No locum pharmacist should be reported to a regulator for this. Locum rates have never been under the GPhC’s remit, and nor should it have commented on the matter in such a way. As frontline health workers supporting patients and the nation's health what we need is the regulator to be more supportive during these times.

Employee pharmacists receive sick pay while self-isolating. They have job security, bonuses and a lot of companies have been increasing pay during the pandemic. But while their average salaries rise, locum pharmacists have seen their hourly rate decrease or stagnate year after year.

According to the 889 locums who responded to the Pharmacist Cooperative survey that ran between April 2019 and April 2020, the national average for this period was £28.67 with the hourly rate ranging from £19 to £90. Although this rate has slightly increased since 2015, the rise is not in line with inflation. Compared with what an average locum was earning 10 years ago, the salary is still low.

So, while it's easy to vilify locums as greedy and profiteering, if we scratch the surface it's clear to see they are still being used as an easy scapegoat in an industry with much larger problems. To deal with those we need a strong united profession that is willing to speak truth to power and put personal interests aside.

Tohidul Islam is a locum pharmacist based in Manchester and founder of social network The Pharmacist Cooperative


Benie I, Locum pharmacist


Contrast the above article with Locum pharmacists treatment and the attitude towards them. The likes of Rudkin and his ilk should be ashamed but they won't be. The thoughtless spiteful statements will keep coming no doubt. And his friends at the multiples will rather shut pharmacies than pay phamacists. the public should be made aware. And C&D if they claim to have journalists on their payroll should investigate.

I leave you with a few lines from the article to ponder:

*** 'I think it’s important that we maintain the commitments that we’ve made to locums because they are a valued and important part of the workforce.' The BMA has also held talks with NHS England over plans for a national service for 'cascading additional shifts' in primary care to make it easier for locums to find work. ***

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

This is the telegram group that provides a fantastic feed for up to date info and links. Including CPD opportunities and relevant PSNC updates, out of stock issues etc.

It does highlight to its users broad locum rates and what can be expected which rightly has been superb for naive, new locums who would be subject to low dismal rates from co-ordinators/contractors. Well done!

It does give a chance for people to advertise free shifts but only if they meet their minimum rate requirements. This in itself is controversial as the admin is quick to quash any illegal collusion of rates, yet they expect minimum rates to be adhered to before they're advertised.

However, the comments are largely with a passive aggressive tone towards companies which can get personal at times towards particular locum co-ordinators. At times the comments can be rude, sarcastic, patronising and create an online rabble mentality.   

Nothing wrong or illegal here. Ok! But there's no substance or plan other than an online chant of ' we should be getting paid more for our jobs and responsibilty'.

Short term locums inherently want to earn the most money for the least amount of work. Co-ordinators and managers want locums shifts filled for the cheapest rate. These groups thrown together creates this debacle and tit for tat relationship which brings down the whole pharmacy career which you can't even consider a career anymore.    

This has been a problem well before Covid 19 was here, don't go writing an article now preaching respect and unity towards pharmacy in which you've contributed enough to disrespect the profession.                                                         

Muhammad Siddiqur Rahman, Primary care pharmacist

*Attention to all locums*

If you are being 'threatened' by agencies or employers to being reported to the GPhC for offering an enhanced or emergency locum rate, then please feel free to send our article to them.

They will most definitely get rejected by the GPhC. GPhC will only intervene if you are found to be colluding about locum rates and price-fixing as that is ILLEGAL.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

NINETY quid an hour??? Who got that?

As I've said many times before, if all locums got together, moved in the same direction (yes I know herding cats springs to mind) and refused bookings for a period of a few days, the value of the locum may, just may, be appreciated more widely.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Day Lewis during the bank holiday forced opening was offering triple pay to any staff who was willing to work. This included locums.

Ghengis Pharm, Locum pharmacist

Not me, mate!  They offered a weekday rate initially and they only put it up to emergency rate (£35) when they couldn't get anybody at short notice.  The dispensary staff however got triple.  I gave it a miss on principle.

Axed Locum, Locum pharmacist

You are right, and we should do that to counter the collusion by the contractors in fixing the rates, who look for the bidder at the lowest rate, ir-respective of level of experience and work load.

The other key issue is that there are some rotten ones in the profession who are already in a permanant job, and working as a locum at a lower rate in their spare time, thus undermining the ability of the full time locum to negotiate a realistic and/or higher rate.

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