I have been a locum community pharmacist for much of my 10-year career. As reported in C+D, rates have taken a nosedive over the past decade.
New universities are starting to offer the pharmacy degree and churn out pharmacists. In addition to this, some pharmacists who are willing to accept very low, disrespectful and frankly absurd rates have irreversibly damaged our profession. These include young pharmacists, who need to gain experience – although you can’t really blame them for that. There is also a saturation of pharmacists, especially in London.
As the general public has become more disrespectful, rude, and demanding, our jobs have become less manageable and enjoyable than they used to be. Only now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic do you hear of how disrespectful patients can be, and how pharmacy teams have faced abuse. The harsh reality is that abuse is a daily occurrence for community pharmacists.
Locums are more than deserving of slightly higher rates, when considering the new risk of being on the front line as the most accessible healthcare professionals advising possible COVID-19 patients. They’re also risking the health of themselves and loved ones, often having to deal with over 200 patients a day, abuse, medicine shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The overlooking of pharmacy teams has never been more evident. We don’t have a government or representative body that I feel properly champions us. However, the former vehemently promotes that patients should go to the pharmacist first for everything, while asking us pharmacists to do more services with depleted budgets to free up time for other healthcare professionals. What about a pharmacist’s time and sanity?
These added pressures and squeezed budgets are leading some large multiples to also act appallingly to staff. In my experience, they have not increased any locum rates since the outbreak, and stick to their normal rates with no negotiation. It has also come to light that some locums have been threatened with being reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council if they attempt to ask for a different rate.
Some locums who have asked politely about increasing their rates on certain social media platforms have been shot down by some of their peers and made to feel like villains for even suggesting a slight rate increase. I am disgusted by this. This subservient attitude encouraged by this behaviour facilitates the overlooking of pharmacists, which has not and will not get us anywhere.
If we do not respect ourselves, other health professionals will see us as a joke. I don't feel that our own representative bodies stick up for us and the government doesn't value us, so where is this profession to go? Why should pharmacists be so willing to help on this frontline with no incentive and no acknowledgement?
If there are no pharmacists, there will be no medication.
Shahir Afser is a locum pharmacist based in Essex.