I started my pharmacy career at the age of 16, working on the counter at my local Moss Pharmacy – this gives away my age a bit – which has since become an Alliance Pharmacy. I worked my way up from a counter assistant at another Boots branch, through to dispenser, technician, and finally checking technician (ACT).
After eight years in the same pharmacy, I felt it was time for a change, so decided to try locuming, and eventually became self-employed in 2013. As a locum, I get asked to work in pharmacies that are in desperate need of help. I love the feeling of being able to genuinely help a pharmacy in crisis.
The funding cuts hit
Recently, I was regularly booked to work in a pharmacy that was due to close in six months. It was a 100-hour pharmacy that the company felt was no longer profitable, because of the funding cuts across England. The staff were unsure whether they would have jobs at the end of it all and it was a very scary, distressing time for them.
I was asked to help the team move some of the workload to another branch. I wanted to support them all in this time, even though it was not really my everyday job.
Changing locum rates
Pay is very different now. When I began my journey as a locum, I would be working in different places and companies almost every day. I would be able to negotiate an hourly rate, and the rates of pay were very competitive. I effectively have not had a pay rise in five years, and in order to keep getting booked, I have been forced to cut my rate by £2 an hour in some pharmacies.
It is really difficult. There is a fine line between standing up for what you believe you should be getting paid, and not getting regular work.
One company asked me multiple times to take a zero-hour contract for regular work, in order to pay me less. I decided not to take this offer, as my independence in running my company is important to me.
To be honest, I have always stood up for what I believe I should be receiving. I, like many others, have worked incredibly hard to get to this stage in my life, and I will never let people try to take advantage of this. I believe if you work hard and show your worth, good people will always want to book you.
I fear that as the pharmacy cuts start to bite, jobs and training budgets will take a real hit. This will impact efficiency in the pharmacy, and morale will be at an all-time low.
All we can do is our best.
Natalie Davies is a self-employed, locum ACT based in Somerset