Layer 1

‘Locums get blacklisting threats when asking for fairer pay’

“Workload has increased, while staff numbers, wages and morale have decreased”

Although locum pay rates have increased according to C+D’s Salary Survey 2019, negotiating a fairer rate can come at a price, locum pharmacist Tohidul Islam says

Work, play and live. It sounds simple enough, right? But what if you’re a locum pharmacist with a young family, a mortgage and aspirations to try something new, yet your only option is to work, work and live?

Since I qualified in 2005, I have seen many changes in community pharmacy. Over the past 14 years the workload has only increased, while staffing levels, wages and morale have decreased.

Over the last couple of years, the workload has increased significantly for locums and employee pharmacists alike. Locums are expected to fill the shoes of the contract pharmacist and offer the same level of service.

A reduction in staffing levels across pharmacies has also had an impact on locum workload as we are expected to serve at the counter, answer queries, check prescriptions, and answer the phone. The list goes on.

This is in addition to the increasing presence of inexperienced pharmacy staff, caused by a high staff turnover rate, for reasons such as growing workplace pressures and low pay. This has led to pharmacists having to deal with the most basic over-the-counter queries, which trained pharmacy staff could usually handle.

On top of this, there is the rising pressure for locums to have additional qualifications and training such as Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education modules for the Pharmacy Quality Scheme, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, flu jab training, summary care records, safeguarding, and sepsis. Locums are expected to drive business and offer services while increasing sales to create profit.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. Over the past year or two my pay has increased, and it seems locums around the country are experiencing the same. However, once you take inflation into account, it’s not by much. For example, if a locum was paid £25 an hour in 2005, then according to the Bank of England inflation calculator that's equivalent to £36.67 in 2018.

To achieve slightly fairer remuneration, locums are having to negotiate hard. We often find ourselves at the receiving end of some very rude behaviour from coordinators and threats of being blacklisted or reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council. Some [locum bookers] even go as far as to say we will be held responsible if patients can't get access to their medication, because we refuse their rate.

Although negotiating higher rates has been a hard battle to win, I take comfort in the fact that awareness of poor working conditions and fair remuneration among locums is increasing. I hope locums and employed pharmacists can unite to achieve a good workplace environment and fairer pay.

If multiples and independents want to improve services, drive their business forward and grow profit then they will need to work with locum pharmacists. The best investment a business can make is in their staff. If that doesn't happen, the sector will see many more closures.

Tohidul Islam is a locum pharmacist based in Manchester, and founder of social network The Pharmacist Cooperative

The C+D Salary Survey 2019 – the largest UK survey of community pharmacy, and the biggest in the survey's 12-year history – ran between October 1 and November 14 and was completed by a total of 2,556 pharmacists and pharmacy staff. C+D's ongoing coverage from the survey can be found on our dedicated hub.

Search through locum pharmacist jobs on the C+D Jobs website.

25 Comments

M Yang, Community pharmacist

"threats of being blacklisted or reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council. Some [locum bookers] even go as far as to say we will be held responsible if patients can't get access to their medication, because we refuse their rate."

That sounds eerily similar to the kind of rude and irrational irrational of certain patients who threaten complaints because they arrived 5 minutes after the pharmacy was shut, or if medication wasn't delivered because they weren't home. I never worry about such complaints and would treat such behaviour from coordinators in the same fashion. What goes around comes around, and soon they'll find out what it all leads to.

Matthew Edwards, Community pharmacist

On the whole I agree with the sentiments expressed and feel that anyone is entitled to ask for more money.  However if the answer is no, a pharmacy owner is perfectly within their rights to not employ that locum.  If thats what is meant by blacklisting in this article then that is totally misleading and inappropriate.  What I do however have issue with is the paragraph -

"On top of this, there is the rising pressure for locums to have additional qualifications and training such as Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education modules for the Pharmacy Quality Scheme, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, flu jab training, summary care records, safeguarding, and sepsis. Locums are expected to drive business and offer services while increasing sales to create profit"

Why should locums feel that they are exempt from offering the service of a good pharmacist?  At the end of the day remuneration from dispensing has decreased over the years so if a locum is only willing to oversee the dispensing element of our daily job then the remuneration would justifiably be less than those locums that engaged with services.  CPCS requires no further training and is therefore not an additional qualification,  SCR is a requirement of CPCS but is an essential tool for providing emergency supplies and any pharmacist that is not engaged with SCR is letting the side down.  Locums are expected to offer the professional services that the branch provides, they do not manage the business or look at how to improve it.  Flu is a national scheme and again all pharmacists should be able to offer that service under NHS terms. Private flu vaccinations is only avaqilable under private PGD and so a locum would not (and should not) be expected to do them unless the employing company covers them, which never happens.  

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

You would say that - seems you're a proprietor or a puppet of a company !

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

There is no unity among the profession. I have been asked to accept unpaid lunch hour and keep signed on as RP. When I refused and said no pharmacist will do that and take responsibilty for something they are not being paid for.  I was told other locums are fine about it? My ofer of Bookings were refused.

Why are locums taking responsibilty for something they are NOT being paid for? Ridiculous if it is true. Why don't they stand up to them? Is the PDA going to do something about this? 

I think some pharmacists' think they can't refuse and have to keep signed on?

No wonder the employers are walking all over you. 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Your question asking if that organisation is going to do anything, I think you will find the answer is No.

From my dealings with them recently I would reame the D as Deference to the mightly GPhC. They were f'ing useless. Excuse my language. No defence at all, no teeth! where has all that energy and dynamism from the 00s gone??? 

Tim B, Locum pharmacist

I have been on the receiving end of those tactics. These companies can  get away with it when there is a glut of pharmacists. For those who have adversely commented I would remind them that even a dog won’t wag its tail for nothing and that you can’t pay the bills with job satisfaction. A locum is independent of the shackles of an employer and payment is not linked to what the employees receive . 

Steve Churton, Senior Management

No-one would support the allegation asserted in the headline, but essentially this is yet another piece highlighting the workload pressures in play in community pharmacy. These pressures affect employee and locum pharmacists - but maybe not in equal measure. Employees cannot "escape" the pressure, whereas locums are free to take their services elsewhere. As long as I can remember, locums have always called for "fairer remuneration" - but I am yet to see a definition of this. What they mean is they want a better hourly rate. Don't we all? To be a locum is a career choice, and choices have consequences. Some are able to accept these consequences because it suits their life/work balance to do so. Those who find difficulty in doing so should perhaps reconsider their choice? I am fully supportive of fair remuneration for ALL, and I totally "get" the workload pressure arguement, but locums know what to do if they feel at a financial disadvantage to their employee colleagues."Locums are expected to fill the shoes of the contract pharmacist and offer the same level of service" - yes, you got it!

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

Are you for real? You have no idea, do you?

Steve Churton, Senior Management

Last time I looked I was real and had many ideas! Thank you for asking. Do you have anything constructive to add to this topic? 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

No, he doesn't . Straight from the BTC playbook.  (Locums always received a higher hourly rate back in the day because they did not get paid holidays or sickness, they had to fund their own pension and training and RPSGB fees, etc. Basically anything an employed pharmacist received, we got a little extra to go towards this.) I know my rate as a locum was higher than my friends who decided to sell their souls to the ShoeShop and stay on after pre-reg. 

'Senior management' i.e.  hasn't done a full 5 days in a dispensary since Maggie/Major was running the country probably.

Steve Churton, Senior Management

I can assure you that locum rates at Boots reflected market rates and the supply/demand gap when I had responsibility for the central negotiation of them with agencies. Your assertion that they were set at a level to compensate for lack of employee benefits is fanciful nonsense. Why on earth should any employer feel the need to "level up" those who are not loyal employees? In fact, I can recall a time when the policy was not to engage a single locum (and this policy held firm for a period of at least 2 years to my personal knowledge). Sorry if you believe that full time and recent dispensing experience is a pre-requisite to holding a view. Says more about you than me. 

Amitpal Singh, Community pharmacist

Having followed your work for some time now. 
Thank you for all your efforts. 
So many Pharmacist, as well as the whole profession will benefit from you work. 

Rich S, Community pharmacist

..."A reduction in staffing levels across pharmacies has also had an impact on locum workload as we are expected to serve at the counter, answer queries, check prescriptions, and answer the phone. The list goes on."

--- so sounds like you're having to do the same work as a resident pharmacist??? What's your point here?? (Sounds like to me your being asked to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in like the rest of us) 
As a profession we should be looking at the bigger picture. Review funding arrangements, reimbursements, (not doing more work for less pay as it is now) generally being paid properly as a professional. And the money should trickle down to whole pharmacy team, working conditions...list goes on! 

Tohidul Islam, Locum pharmacist

That is literally not the point here.  I did clarify that both managers and locums are having to deal with increased workload. Just roll up your sleeves and deal with it is the wrong attitude in my opinion.  It just shows rather than speaking up about high pressure and unsafe work environment you'd rather just get on with it.  At what point do you then say the pressure is too much? Is it when you start noticing more errors or when you're having to take time off due to stress or when a patient dies? Where is your boundary? Food for thought.  

 

Locums aren't an exotic species of homo sapiens. Some of us are contractor's, superintendents, managers,area managers,etc. We chose to locum for various reasons. One of the main reasons of managers leaving their jobs to locum is because they can no longer afford to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. They tried that approach and some had mental breakdowns. In fact I had a manager from one of largest multiples come visit me at my home at 9PM one evening because he wanted to leave his company ASAP after years of working hard for them.  He was coming home late every night stressed and his hands would shake. His employer was demanding more and more. That's what locums are leaving behind. So, no this article isn't a about me and my locum colleagues it's about the state of the profession and crisis we're all facing.  

 

If you want our funding to improve you'll have to engage with RPS and PSNC. Until we as a profession get our heads together and stop attacking each other we won't see any improvements. 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

If there was one issue I experienced in my time - it was the lack of professional unity in the community sector. The GPs would never tolerate equivalent conditions, and they have enough to deal with. They would threaten to go into private practice en masse. My point is that they stand together. We never managed it at all in a meaningful sense. Whatever role you describe, it is still the role of a pharmacist. When the economics of it continue to slide further in the next few years, people will exit the register, whether contractor, employee or locum. The multiples will look for more savings on the 5 year fixed contract, and if that means squeezing you harder - they won't hesitate. There will be an implied threat of always getting someone else. I know of several who took early retirement due to it.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Which is why the multiples are pushing the apprenticeship model for pharmacists-cheap, biddable labour

Umer Bhuta, Community pharmacist

We should be uniting and lobbying the government for better pay for all

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

I think the point being made in the article is that pharmacists,whether locum or employed  are getting a very raw deal now and workplace pressure is now approaching boiling point.I don't think it helps to have a pop at locum pharmacists who work extremely hard in very challenging circumstances,have no pension scheme (and many can not now afford such a luxury due to the very low pay) and no paid holidays and company benefits enjoyed by the employed pharmacist.

Rich S, Community pharmacist

Not having a pop at Locums...agreed most work hard and vital in the profession in keeping the business going.I just interpret this article as "me...me...me" and not "us...us...us" thats all. 

David Moore, Locum pharmacist

Qualified in 2005?  I qualified in 1972!

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Some people may have qualified in 1969. What's your point David ?

David Kent, Community pharmacist

Or even in 1968; and glad to be retired from this dysfunctional profession. 

David Moore, Locum pharmacist

I've seen far greater changes in pharmacy. Not many for the better.

Tohidul Islam, Locum pharmacist

Changes aren't always a bad thing but I think what we need to do is work more closely as a profession and ensure our profession and patients are given greater importance than profits.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Too late I'm afraid. Only people left are there simply to pay bills

Job of the week

Pre-registration Pharmacist
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Up to £25,000