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‘Pharmacy locums deserve higher rates of pay’

“Locums are risking the health of themselves and loved ones”

Locums should be allowed to negotiate higher hourly rates of pay because of the pressures of COVID-19, says locum Shahir Afser

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.

I absolutely agree that locums should try and negotiate a slightly higher rate during COVID-19. Even if they are successful, once this has all blown over the rates will plummet back down to normal.

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).

Unfortunately our profession has been overlooked, taken for granted and treated very poorly for a long time.

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.

65 Comments

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I can understand your consternation. I thought it was some unique affliction with community pharmacists, but it is human nature. Struggle in the moment without seeing the change in the tidal forces which will eventually see remote supervision, or ACT in large numbers.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Salary is not determined on justice in a capitalist society. There isn't even justice in the law courts. Salary is all about market forces, and supply and demand. Salaries will continue to drop in Primary and Secondary care positions. I'm an IP, and to those so-called clinical pharmacists who think you'll end up on a £60k basic salary working for a GP you're in for a shock. My friend works in general practice 60 hours plus a week and only gets paid £45k. He's now desperately trying to change career. It's not worth your time, money, health and self-respect.

Beta Blocker, Primary care pharmacist

I work in general practice and get 46k for 37.5hrs... I never work more and most of the time end up working less. When I compare this workload to my workload in community, I'm a much more happier person and have better work life balance. Plus I'm doing more uni courses funded by the surgery and the end goal is to complete the masters in advanced practice. With regards to salaries dropping in primary care, its a possibility if the area gets flooded with community pharmacists but I suppose that's one of the reasons for studying for the masters.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Great to hear. Be honest, do you feel part of the team in general practice? Secondly, what do you know in the way of job security in the role? 

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Never understood the whole idea of working in general practice and gaining an IP. The ones I've come across end up becoming the dogs body for the surgery and dealing with every loosely related medication query without much job satisfaction. Unless anyone can enlighten me?

I suppose compared to the debacle community pharmacy is becoming it's the best way out; in that way 45k a year isnt a bad salary. I understand there's funding for surgeries to take on a practice pharmacist but the question is if their salary is viable once the funding is pulled? Or is the only beneficial part is the IP role would relives the pressure on gps to sign scripts otherwise the role is more medicines management.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Most do it as an escape from community. But the reality is you just become a poorly paid dogsbody for the GP. A practice pharmacist without an IP qualification or responsibilities is essentially a prescription secretary with a degree. I quit after being an IP for two years, and I was actually presribing in endocrinology. It was so boring in the end and I couldn't see myself retiring in that setting. Having said that, it's better than working for a multiple and taking abuse from an area manager who doesn't even have a degree. Each to their own.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

'Pressure on GPs'? What pressure? Just look how the covid crisis has been handled in GP world - they won't see one of those filthy contaminated creatures called patients unless it's an absolute last resort and they remain cossetted away either at home or behind triple thick screens and receptionists doing a few phone appointments. Have you rung a surgery recently and heard the messages they have before you get even close to speaking to anyone basically saying 'how dare you call us?'

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Yes it's horrid. Sadly the GPs are King- and they'll still be clapped louder as NHS heroes rather than 'retail pharmacy key workers' every thursday night. Can't beat them, join them?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I realised a long time ago (when I began working closely with them) that GPs are not the wondrous creatures portrayed on the telly. They can be very rude about their patients and genuinely DO NOT CARE about them. I have never seen a GP express anything other than total indifference over the death of a patient (except to check it wasn't their fault). The patient is simply a piece of meat to be kept alive as best as possible.

I haven't done the clap for several weeks (I'm always at work anyway) but I'm a clappee not a clapper. All pharmacists should have a lineup of people out the front of the counter for a bit of socially distanced backslapping.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Don't entirely agree that all GPs don't care. On the whole I found GPs respect that you're a pharmacist and the knowledge and training you have, but at the same time step back and think......'all you do is sign the box and they're handed out to the patient'. They would love pharmacists to treat and prescribe for minor, routine conditions. i.e. macrobid for UTIs.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

There's an important difference that's misleading in the headlines and leading paragraph between 'locums deserve higher rates' and 'locums allowed to negotiate'. 

The latter is in reference in which there is the mechanism to allow a locum to ask for a higher rate. If it's via venloc then it's down to the venloc admin to set the rates and the locum either chooses this or not. But if there's a way to contact a store manager directly then informally ask for a higher rate then you could say it's down to the willingness/authority of the store manager to grant the higher rate.

If a locum has a pre-booked shift with a rate prior to Covid then it's whether they can approach the employer to change the rate. Once again this is generally an informal manner usually via phone call/whatssap etc .

The long term problem is the perception of the employer in any case of greed/unfair rate and the implications for that locum in the long run in bookings/rates/ attitudes.

Whether a locum 'deserves a higher rate' is purely an opinion attached to the supply and demand funtion in which a locum works under

Amrina Hussain, Accuracy checking technician

No disrespect but when locums are getting paid £18.50 per hour, I think it is fair that they try and negotiate a higher rate during this time. Most locums that come in are helpful, eager and hardworking. Asking for a few pounds more during this difficult time should not be a big deal. 

 

 

 

 

Dara Hughes, Community pharmacist

I respectfully disagree that Locums should be expecting rate increases DUE TO COVID 19. Regular pharmacists and their hard working teams present to work day after day with no increases in pay due to the increased health hazard posed. It’s to be respected and admired. Please don’t misunderstand that this is not a judgement as to whether underlying Locums rates are too high or low. 

Asma Aroun, Community pharmacist

If a locum has to self isolate, it means they ll lose any income, let alone going off sick for an extended period of time. Having said that, even employees Inc despensers and Healthcare assistants, deserve either higher rates or bonus. We are all on the same boat! If locums keep their rates high, employers would consider increasing rates for their employees. Another issue that u may not be aware of, is the language used by some coordinators when u start negotiating can be threatening and disrespectful! And I think this is the issue the author is trying to highlight.

Shahir Afser, Community pharmacist

Thank you and yes, those were some of the very points I was trying to convey. The "that's my lot and it'll do" kind of attitude and the inability to pull together towards a common goal is completely to the detriment of the profession.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

The profession is brown bread. Focus your energies into doing something more financially and spirtitually rewarding. Or in simple terms something worth the bloody effort you put in.

Shahir Afser, Community pharmacist

It’s not that Locums “SHOULD” be “EXPECTING” (your words) at all. It’s just that they should be able to politely negotiate if they so wish without being vilified or threatened by being reported for doing so during these testing times.

Absolutely, regular pharmacists and staff should be respected/admired for turning up, doing the job that they are salaried for with most sickness/self isolation periods/annual leave paid for. Locums don’t have some of those perks.

Unfortunately respect/admiration seems to be a thing of the past and won’t ever pay a bill. The same people clapping on a Thursday night will turn up on a Friday morning demanding that only Teva brand Atorvastatin will do....

Dara Hughes, Community pharmacist

Dear Shahir.

Yes absolutely locums should never be reported for requesting rate increases. And yes, for what it's worth I agree with us clapping for the NHS every Thursday. I believe if we really want to help the NHS we, collectively, should be following the rules of social distancing... be tolerant... and so on. I can't help but feel that some of those who clap don't put in those required efforts.

I personally don't feel that respect and admiration is missing in the profession. I do still believe that the majority view the pharmacist and their teams in high regard. Of course there will alweays be the exceptions.

Shahir Afser, Community pharmacist

Hi Dara... I'm genuinely really glad you still feel this way. Reading that comment was like a breath of fresh air as unfortunately so many of my peers feel the exact opposite and have become progressively disillusioned/disheartened. 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

That NHS 'clapping' is an embarrassing hypocrisy on the most part.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

It just feels like a stale, hollow gesture now. When it first began it was spontaneous and genuine but now, you get supermarket tannoy announcements effectively bullying you into joining in. I hope Belper is still mooing though, even though the lockdown is easing a little. That is just such weird, uniquely British thing to do!

Tim B, Locum pharmacist

Had a good clear out the other day and found some old invoices dating back to 2002 .My weekday rate back then was £27 per hour. Plus mileage and accomodation where necessary.   Pharmacy has become a sick joke and pharmacists will be extinct within 5 years. It will be swallowed up into medical degree curriculae . It is a highly specialised branch of chemistry which is no longer needed.

 

 

 

Shahir Afser, Community pharmacist

Wow, 18 years ago!... thanks for putting this into context, apparently inflation doesn't affect pharmacy?! Although I don't think extinction is on the cards... they'll continue to find ways to keep on trying to "upskill" this already skilled and talented workforce to do higher level/pay scale services but at a third of the price. 

 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

You must have been profiteering. I will pass your details to Rudkin at the GPhC. 

C A, Community pharmacist

Who doesn't understand sarcasm? Though it *might* be a good idea to pass some of those invoices on to the GPhC and ask them to comment on inflationary economics and bloodsucking practices from big corporations...

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

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Benie I, Locum pharmacist

https://www.gponline.com/locum-gps-stranded-work-dries-covid-19-crisis/article/1681725

 

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. ***

Mr Anon, Community pharmacist

I risk being attacked here for my comments but allow me to offer an opinion. I completely agree that locum rates are at an all time low and should be increased. But there are several things to consider. Firstly, I feel multiples are the main culprit in this and unfortunately, small independents like the one I work in, will come under fire alongside the multiples for paying locums poorly. 
 

One issue I have is that locum pharmacists are suggesting they should receive 'danger' money to cover shifts in pharmacy. What about the regular pharmacist like myself that work full time and take just one day off mid-week? I can't increase my salary any more, especially if I'm a contractor and can't draw any more money from the business as a result of the current economic climate. I realise there are a lot of contractors who have been milking the pharmacy business for years and making a lot of money who could pay locums more. But not all contractors are the same.

What about the other members of staff in the pharmacy? Counter assistants? Dispensers? ACTs? Shouldn't they all be entitled for increase pay? Where I've worked, my dispenser and counter assistants have mentioned how many locum hired through agencies have been 'hiding' during the COVID-19 crisis. They rarely leave the dispensary, make the other members of staff hand out bagged prescriptions. Surely the other members of staff's exposure risk is the same if not greater to a certain degree than a pharmacist (counter assistants especially). The GPhC inspector who called the other day asking for feedback on the pharmacy's experience during the pandemic seemed to make the same point as above.

The pharmacy where I work isn't very busy. We don't do methadone or many major services (after cuts) and the dispensing volume is around 3000 items (increased slightly during the pandemic). Where locums have come from busy pharmacies dispensing 9000 items are coming to small pharmacies like ours expecting the same £32/hour they managed to obtain there. Again, most of the time they tell the dispensers how wonderful it is to work in a 'chilled' pharmacy like ours and become very lazy. (I'm quick to add, I'm not anti-locum. All of our locums we have had before March were all wonderful and were happy with their rate of pay - £25/hr if anyone is wondering). 

To end, I agree with the article, but increasing locum rates does not then equate to better quality locums - especially from a contractor's point of view. We have had locums that have turned up to shifts 30mins late and then leaving a full invoice with no deduction. Locum who have left their smart cards at home or who have tried to apply for shifts when they have no smart card at all! 
Risky during this viral pandemic? Yes, the profession is. But there are other staff also working in the pharmacy as well lest you forget. Small pharmacies like ourselves are trying to be as fair as the business allows when paying locums. I understand other contractors are not so considerate. Perhaps reflection is needed on both sides, both the contractor and the locum.

PS. Thank you to all locum pharmacists who have gone above and beyond the call of duty during this unsettling time.

 

 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Well written. I'm a locum again now and frankly, I don't feel in any more danger in the dispensary than I do going round the supermarket (less so in fact) so danger money isn't an issue really. The problem I have with the article is that it's written by a locum and while I agree that locum rates are repressed far too far (£100 per day less than I was getting in 2005-6) a locum saying rates should be higher is like an article from a turkey arguing against christmas.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Exactly! Well written. However you approach this there's good arguements on both sides but the outcome will always be an increase in anomosity betwen locums/employers/staff.

There was a scenario where a locum was needed for the next day due to a family emergency. The contractor/manager desperately trying to source a locum and the only one available wouldn't budge on 40/hr in which he angrily agreed. The staff were aware of this and decided to make the locum 'work' non stop almost as a punishment. By this I mean a whole list that was expected to be done. i.e. making sure they helped with labelling and dispensing, putting orders away, made sure a CD check was done, any request for a break was denied. This was clearly additional work to what the regular locums would do all because they were on 40/hr.

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