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‘The GPhC risks tarring all locums with the same profiteering brush’

“Negotiating locum rates is an important element of a free market economy”

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)’s comments about a minority of locum pharmacists “profiteering” from COVID-19 are not what is needed from the regulator, says Mitesh Patel

Last month, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) chief executive Duncan Rudkin warned against “profiteering in difficult times”. He quite rightly called out the behaviour of a minority of pharmacies taking advantage during this COVID-19 pandemic through price hikes of products in short supply. What wasn’t appreciated were his comments about locums, accusing some of “profiteering to take selfish advantage” of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Pharmacists all over the country are working tirelessly on the frontline, sometimes without personal protective equipment – putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19. Pharmacy teams have also faced an increase in abusive and aggressive behaviour by patients since the outbreak.

Quite frankly, I was disheartened that the GPhC picked such an ill-timed moment to comment on locum rates. The council would be well-served to remember that they are not the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The ability to negotiate locum rates is an important element of a free market economy operating under a supply and demand model. It is also a key factor used by HM Revenue and Customs when determining the self-employed status of locum pharmacists.

I fear that by having made such an erroneous statement, the GPhC is in danger of tarring all locum pharmacists with the same brush, thus bringing the profession into disrepute. That is not what my peers want from a regulator.

The GPhC ran the risk of permanently alienating a large segment of the register. By contrast, the General Medical Council (GMC) quite rightly doesn’t comment on the rates agreed by locum GPs as that is a matter of negotiation between the locum GP and their prospective employer.

In fact, the GMC said in an article last month  that  “doctors will stop at nothing to provide care in this crisis – our job is to support them”. The GMC took the opportunity to advocate and pillar the great work GPs are doing and reassured them that if concerns were raised about their practice, they would take into account the extreme circumstances in which they are working.

This is the kind of great insight and comfort we desperately need from our regulator. The GPhC should be seizing the opportunity to be more positive and focus on how they can support and champion the great work that pharmacists and pharmacy teams in all sectors are doing in these troubled times.

Since the statement from the GPhC was released, I have noticed that some locum agencies and multiples have used it as a stick with which to beat locum pharmacists into submission so that they accept what is being offered, instead of negotiating a hourly rate that is commensurate to the job being offered.

I shared my concerns with the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), and it subsequently confirmed that the GPhC has no other legitimate regulatory interest in the rates agreed between locums and their clients. It explained that referring a locum to the GPhC for simply negotiating a higher hourly rate would be “an absurdity and an abuse of the regulatory system”.

Before the GPhC made these comments, I feel it would have been prudent if they had first considered whether the hourly locum rate has kept up with inflation. £10.00 in 2009 is equivalent to £13.51 in 2019 when accounting for inflation, according to the Bank of England, at an increase of 35%.

Employees usually have annual salary reviews and are offered a small wage increase to reflect the increased costs of living year on year. This is what locums are seeking to do when negotiating their pay.

Mitesh Patel is a locum pharmacist in Yorkshire

In response to this article, GPhC sent C+D this statement on April 3:

“We understand the important role that locum pharmacists are playing by helping to keep pharmacies open to provide safe and effective care for patients, and we are very grateful for their contribution.

“We are in no way trying to suggest that all locums are taking advantage of the current emergency to negotiate higher rates or that locums cannot individually negotiate rates with their clients.

“However, we were concerned to hear reports that there was some co-ordination among a small minority of locum pharmacists to significantly inflate their hourly rate. Neither pharmacy owners nor locums should be looking to profit from this situation by involving themselves in anti-competitive action. We will continue to take a balanced and even-handed approach to issues raised about some pharmacy owners and some members of the profession, whilst applauding the great work that the majority on all sides are doing to support the public.

“The requirement to behave professionally at all times remains in place and at this time of national crisis it is more important than ever that everyone’s first concern is for patients and the public.”

65 Comments

Dave Downham, Manager

"The GPhC risks tarring all locums with the same profiteering brush." I would also argue that "some locums risk tarring all locums with the same profiteering brush." There some absolutely fantastic locums out there who do a fantastic job, work hard, charge a reasonable - £20-odd - amount and are welcome back to cover every shift going.

On the other hand...

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

£20 is reasonable? What a laugh

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

£20? Lol. I wouldn't get up from bed for less than £50ph in my job.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

£20 is reasonable ?? Errr thanks for your contribution Dave.

Dave Downham, Manager

£20-odd doesn't mean £20...the point is that there are plenty of charlatans out there who take the p1ss. 

C A, Community pharmacist

Good old Duncan gets paid approx £86.50/hr for his work at the GPhC - so I would argue he is profiteering off the hard work of pharmacists!

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

What exactly does the guy do all day anyway?
Like the RPS, which I shall soon be leaving; what does Madam President, failed MP do all-day for their near Boris style and above salaries!!

Tim B, Locum pharmacist

Unprofessional or otherwise, I now have a bottom line below which I would not even get out of bed for .It is way more than £19 or £ twenty odd quid an hour. Had GPhC not stuck its unwelcome oar in I would be available at a rate more commensurate with what is currently being offered. So far I have managed to avoid working even though I was put on the 'emergency register' - I don't think pharmacies around here know that I may be available, I certainly haven't broadcasted it. Not that it worries me. I also know that I would not be thanked in anyway for working my b******s off. And you can bet there will be no increase in locum rate after this pandemic- quite the opposite I think. Like others have said here Rudkin et al are more than likely colluding with the big companies to keep rates down - anticompetitive behaviour in anyone's book. These companies don't relish there being a pharmacist shortage because they will have to up their ante to attract anyone half decent. Why put up with all this nonsense ?? Either all stand together to make things better for all of us or just get out, if you can, of what has become a f******g awful job. The juice ain't worth the squeeze.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

There's a cartel, the Unis, the multiples, Dunc and co, all to flood the market, to depress wages and let others look the other way when 60 shops suddenly close and not a word is mentioned.
And now with all the NHS worship and Boris being ill he will have to funnel all the money to hospitals and GPs. ( Their locked doors will be forgotten!)
So no extra money for pharmacy. Result : it only gets worse.

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

Hear, hear! mate.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

You seem to be suggesting Rudkin is in the pay of multiples? Shouldnt that be investigated C&D ? Editor ?

Tim B, Locum pharmacist

They won't look into it. 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Previous Editor seemed to be weirdly loyal to Boots et al. Just wondering if there is a similar arrangement with the new editor?

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Obviously.
They control the Cartel !

Tim B, Locum pharmacist

Who knows . I doubt c&d will do anything to upset the apple cart.

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.

https://pharmacistcoop.co.uk/news-and-views/gphc-statement-on-locums-profiteering-response-to-our-letter/

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.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

...and your conpany name isn't Boots or Lloyds....

R A, Community pharmacist

What I see is a complete double standard in the behaviour of multiples. In 2007 when I was in Uni locum hourly rate was £25 this dropped to £19 per hour by 2017. This was because of supply and demand. Therefore why is it not fair for individual locums to negotiate a better rate since they are literally placing themselves in a biohazard work environment?

Honestly the most disappointing thing is the GPhC getting involved in this in the first place! This will only encourage multiples to exploit locums and pharmacist and threaten to report them to GPhC for areas which GPhC have no business. If anything the only legal entity that you could involve in this matter is trading standards who the multiples know will refuse to get involved in since as locums are free agent they are entitled to set their rates. 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Agreed. The GPhC's main role is to protect the public. Not to poke their noses into the business affairs and employment arrangements in private companies.

Community Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

I know this may sound like madness. Can we expect an apology from the GPhC for their comments on poor locums going out of their way during this pandemic?

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

I'll celebrate running nude and wouldn't mind being marched in front of the 'committee' :>))

 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Soume would say only if the multiples were to allow them...

Dax Benn, Marketing

During the 2015 Pharmacy show I attended a session organised by a currently operating company in one of the side rooms at the NEC (Piazza Suite 5 on Sunday 18th October).
One of the founders of that organisation then spoke of his previous endeavours as the owner of a locum agency. He explained how one of the major pharmacy operations were not happy about the rising locum rates at that time (early 1990s).
He then explained how a representative of that major chain pharmacy asked him if he had a mortgage and how they could help him with his mortgage if he would negotiate lower locum rates.
I know there were at least 30 people in that room and not one person seemed to be even phased by this statement.

My point is if you have "actual evidence" of such collusions then at least a line has been drawn on when you should sit up and call foul play.
Large companies have always colluded in anti-competitive action. With information now provided on organisations that you can report to (notably CMA) at least you can now have a voice.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

If there wasn't such a thing as a libel law I would ask you to name and shame.

Pear Tree, Community pharmacist

DAUK is a great example of the way pharmacists should stand up for their profession. The GMC has tried to use a doctor as a scapegoat for the systemic failure in a hospital due to chronic underfunding, and as a result chronic understaffing. Doctors have united, lobbied , and used their collective power to show the GMC for what it was, an organisation more interested in their public image than protecting the public. Not sure when pharmacists will wake up to the fact that unless you stand up to the bully, the bully is highly unlikely to change his way.

H Gokul, Community pharmacist

GPHC has no authority over the big chains but will it examine the rates historically paid. Will it also let us know how they came to know the locums were colluding. If this was through the multiples they should publicise this. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

No chance of that because GPhC = Boots/Lloyds/Well lackey

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Locums in community pharmacy have been regarded for a long time as the sewer rats of the profession.  Comments about locums sitting in the corner with the crossword while chaos is happening around them are all too common.  There was also the issue of "locums being pleased about MUR's being phased out as they didn't want to do them anyway".  The GPhC then commenting about profiteering due to the crisis is just another in a long line of negative comments about community locums.

Large numbers of locums work very hard to keep a pharmacy running to the best of their ability and frequently have to hit the ground running especially if the booking has been made at short notice.  There are poor locums in the same way as there are poor managers but the majority are good at their jobs and work hard.

I am currently back on the register having retired at the beginning of the year but I am finding that my "skills" are as welcome as a wasp at a picnic despite this crisis bringing pharmacy teams to their knees.  Give a dog a bad name and hang him!

A.S. Singh, Community pharmacist

As a contractor I can assure you I find your comment on locums disgusting (sewer rats) but I also never drop my rate below £22 per hour

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

How do you live on just £22ph? That's a terrible rate.

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