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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.

68 Comments

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.

I am not a locum pharmacist and I also appreciate their work as you do. Not trying to attack you but I do think there is an extra risk. As always, is that they don't get paid if they are ill. And now it is more likely that they get ill.

Let's say a locum has mild symptoms and has to self-isolate and cannot work for 14 days or more. Then someone else in the household gets symptoms and they have to self-isolate again. Maybe they are unlucky enough to get severe symptoms that leave them with a long term illness.

The first two are likely scenarios taking into account how exposed pharmacy staff are. Locums can lose several days of work and pay, whereas all the permanent staff and relief even though also at risk will get paid in those situations.

I hope they don't get ill and they can save up the money from increased wages, but many chances are, those increased wages will finance the times they cannot go to work.

Denise Dobson, Community pharmacist

Not all employees get sick pay, apart from statutory with waiting days , which is a joke. Why should Locum rates increase, when employees do not? 

Asma Aroun, Community pharmacist

U need to look at it from a different angle, WE ALL deserve higher rates, the article is not suggest g that employees should keep getting minimum wage!

Mr Anon, Community pharmacist

I see your point, however, what about sick pay entitlement for owner managers? If an owner manager contracted coronavirus, they would ultimately be forced to either hire a locum to cover their time off or close completely for the 14 day isolation period (if all staff were affected). In either case, the contractor would lose money. Health risk and financial loss combined.
 

I can definitely see your point about loss of income for locums unable to work but remember, a lot of locums are self employed. The risk associated with an inability to work are relatively universal for those that are self employed, regardless of the sector they work in 

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Nicely written, however I'm not sure your locums would tell you if they weren't happy with £25/hr. 

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