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‘Pharmacists are reconsidering their careers after DH mistreatment’

The medicines deliveries service seems like a ruse to pacify contractors”

The government’s initial exclusion of pharmacy teams from its COVID-19 death in service payment scheme was the icing on top of a distasteful cake, says Laura Buckley

There’s nothing like a kick in the teeth to make you question your career choices. Community pharmacy has had quite the year and I know lots of pharmacy colleagues who, after recent developments, are reconsidering their options.

And who wouldn’t, given the recent announcement that community pharmacy teams might not be eligible to receive £60,000 life assurance payout, should they die after contracting COVID-19 while working on the frontline of the pandemic?

Worse still is that colleagues in other healthcare sectors – even those with less contact with patients – were eligible at the time the scheme was announced. In a fumble to make up for the Department of Health and Social Care (DH)’s oversight, health secretary Matt Hancock subsequently said that pharmacists are now covered by this scheme, but left the eligibility of their teams hanging.

And that’s just the icing on the top of a very distasteful cake. In another bid to minimise the impact of COVID-19, NHS England announced that pharmacies would be delivering medicines to ‘shielding’ patients. This left us stuck in a mire, worrying about the impact of using volunteers to deliver medicines.

Community pharmacists are struggling with the workload. Once again, delivery processes that seemed appropriate from those sat in an office just aren’t cut out to work effectively in community pharmacies. It almost seems a ruse to pacify contractors, as the reality of accessing funding for deliveries seems to be far-fetched.

Not only are my colleagues in community pharmacies dealing with negativity from the country’s leaders, they are also suffering the loss of much-loved colleagues to COVID-19 and abuse from those in society who lack respect and compassion. If pharmacy needs anything right now, it’s support, care, understanding and a whole lot of funding.

It seems to me that the government is very good at taking what it needs from community pharmacies, and especially talented at giving back exactly nothing in return.

But when COVID-19 reared its head, our community pharmacies didn’t shy away from their responsibilities. Despite the government’s apparent ignorance of the role of pharmacy staff as key workers and its refusal to initially acknowledge us, we continued to chip away at the mountainous workload growing before our eyes.

Though we don’t expect benefits for our frontline work, there have been cases of refusing to admit pharmacy colleagues into supermarkets during NHS worker reserved hours, as they “aren’t doctors and nurses”. This adds insult to injury. How can we expect the public to understand the vital role we play, when the government appears to lack insight, too?

Government action regarding community pharmacy teams feels like a great afterthought. A continuous pattern of being overlooked in the first instance has a sector of hard-working, genuinely caring people considering whether their efforts are worth the disregard the government and the country gives them.

What the government and the public really need to understand is that without the support of pharmacy staff, healthcare in the UK would be sorely lacking and many patients would suffer.

Pharmacy teams are essential to healthcare in this country and we don’t sit on the substitution bench for our colleagues in other sectors. First-line, frontline and always pharmacy. Respect what we do or risk losing us as we down tools in disgust.

Laura Buckley is a locum pharmacist based in Hull

61 Comments

Boom Shakalaka, Locum pharmacist

Well said Laura.
Pharmacy requires a lot more pharmacists like you.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

But does it deserve it?

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

No thumbs down from me Leon, good pharmacists are being broken by the system we have to work under. Pharmacy as it is being treated at the moment (i.e. like what flies congregate around) does not deserve the standard of people who work within it. The problem is that all of the people who rely on pharmacy DO, and the system knows this.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Left Community and Primary Care a few years ago. I regret wasting my time becoming an IP and taking orders from Area Managers and GPs, whereas I could have gained valuable experience in Industry at a younger age. I cannot believe I was going through the motions, and accepting that I would be on just £50k pa until the official retirement age. Luckily I got out just in time, and I have managed to become a Medical Signatory and Head of Medical Affairs within a few years. The benefits of industry? No phone calls, no ungrateful and abusive patients, no threat of making a serious dispensing error, no superiors barking orders, no ridiculous and unrealistic targets, less stress, more money, work from home, Flexi hours, no weekend working, only 35 hours a week, more respect, more autonomy, travel the world to attend conferences and meetings, all expenses paid, private medical and dental insurance, massive bonus and salary increase annually, company car and phone, more variety in the job, and people can't take my place easily. A Pharmacist or any HCP means something in the Industry. It means nothing when you are patient facing.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Did you have to do a QP qualification or extra studying for anything else?

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

QP is in Quality. Totally different sector.

R A, Community pharmacist

One thing I would add is that the worst enemy of the pharmacy profession is the academic institution.

Since 2006 new pharmacy schools have been opening at an alarming rate despite there being no real shortage of pharmacists. I think this has dystroyed the profession because with so much debt and very few job opportunities so many people have accepted the work from multiples out of desperation despite the poor working conditions.

One academics excuse was "it will allow the cream to rise to the top" when I was a student 10 years ago. With all this knowledge I have now I would have challenged her for making such a biased statement. Since this was clearly a route for universities to make more profit they couldnt care less it was dystroying the profession. 

It would be interesting to note that neither in Medicine or Dentistry have the academics engaged in such proliferation of teaching schools for the fear that it will affect the livelihood of qualified medics and dentists. The problem is that without a decent pay it will fail to attract competent students people who can drive the profession. Therefore it needs to keep the market in the favour of the profession.

In pharmacy since it has swinged the other way I have noticed the calibre of candidates going the other way. One old lecturer even told me that back in his day many of the new pharmacists qualifing would never have been admitted to the course! I think it was this exclusivity that kept the standard profession high. These days I'm not sure you can really call a community pharmacist a profession more like a lackey.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

I totally agree with everything you say and have been saying all of this for the last ten years. The unis have ruined the profession in hand with the multiples thanking them for the cheap labour. Last week I worked for the rate I used to get in 2005 but there is no choice. If I ask for more they will simply find a younger cheaper pharmacist.
And regarding the calibre of pharmacy students, I was only talking to a colleague about the summer students we may or may not get this summer and how for the last decade most of them wouldn't have got on the course 30 odd years ago when I did when there were about 15 schools of pharmacy not 30.
Your comment on the medical profession is spot-on. Drs may moan but they like a shortage of drs. It keeps their wages high. Simple economic supply and demand.

R A, Community pharmacist

Hi Angela, 

My view is that with the proliferation of pharmacy schools it has created pressure on all schools to compete for students. Unfortunately all most all schools have lowered there entrance requirement. I remember one of my lecturers told me that to get in the top pharmacy schools in 2000 you needed at least an ABB which is what you needed to get in Dentistry. These days a lot of good schools are happy to offer BBB. Therefore if someone misses those grades it is very likely they can still get in to a pharmacy school. 

Common sense would dictate that to maintain competitiveness and academic exclusivity entrance requirement should be raised higher not lowered? Unfortunately this dilution makes it easier to create a more amenable work force of peon like pharmacists perfect for the multiples. 

Medicine is complicated. Just my opinion but we have enough resources to provide a comprehensive care however it would mean actually telling the British population to take some ownership for their own health. After all type II diabetes costs the NHS nearly £10 billion thats like 7.4% of its budget. Cardiovascular disease costs something like 22% of the NHS overall budget. No amount of money being poured into the NHS will help solve such problems unless the general public take some responsibility. Can you imagine if we could have eliminated or completely flattened the preventative illness? That would free up a surplus of £39 billion to be re-allocated within the NHS. 

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

I think community Pharmacist stopped being a profession many decades ago if we're being honest.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

It certainly stopped being a VIABLE profession a long time ago.

A B, Community pharmacist

How did you get into this field, I would guess it is very competitive? Asking for a friend

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Persistance, networking and I spent a lot of money doing external courses at unsociable hours. I had to start from the bottom. I took a £20k+ pay cut when I left primary care. My former colleagues who thought I was crazy, and laughed at me then are not laughing at me now.
Of course there was luck, because it's very rare for someone with no industry experience to get into medical affairs. It's the hardest division to get into in the industry. It took me at least 4 years of constantly applying to finally get my break.

Most community and primary care pharmacists don't want to take the initial pay cut, put in the hours of study, or make the great sacrifices to get to the top in industry. They are too comfortable, but those days will be over for them soon. It's that kind of laziness and complacency that's allowed the regulators, politicians and public to destroy the profession for good.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Fantastic!! Couldn't have said it better.

Some many pharmacists are trapped by the wage. Unfortunately some can't make the financial sacrifice. But those that can it's a bitter pill to swallow. But look at the advantages, if there is a pay drop or having to study more then locumming does give opportunities to squeeze in the odd shift here and there to supplement income. i.e. the odd 7pm-10pm at a supermarket, or a regular saturday am.

It still amazes me to encounter so many pharmacists who don't realies that a community dispensing pharmacist career is dead. The wages are decreasing and getting eroded by inflation.

The double whammy is that the hard work, exposure and risk by pharmacists and team during Covid 19 won't get recognised, and in a few years time there'll be huge austerity on the global sum. It's such an easy target for the government to decrease the number of pharmacies 'in the drive to limit social interaction'. Then redundant pharmacists are just natural wastage

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Really interesting!
What courses did you have to do please?
QP? MBA?

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

I did a whole load of PV, medical information and medical affairs courses before applying. Once I got into industry, I went onto more specific training but that was always paid by my employers.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Just out of curiosity. How many jobs, such as yours, exist compared to community pharmacist/ locum pharmacist?

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

In the UK? Very few in comparison. Don't know the exact numbers.

SP Ph, Community pharmacist

a

O J, Community pharmacist

Community pharmacy is a thick skin doormat of the NHS. Whip it, abuse it, spit at it...... nothing happens. We always smile and say thank you.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

The same thing will he happening to the GP pharmacists.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

and to Industry Pharmacists, if eveyone turned to Industry!! Just the supply and demand rule. Simples

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

It's extremely difficult to secure a £40k plus salary in industry without prior experience. Almost impossible in fact. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk into a community Pharmacist job without any experience. Do you know how many community Pharmacists or Primary care pharmacists I get sent a DM in my LinkedIn profile a day asking for a job? It's insane. I posted a job last year for a junior MI Officer last year, and I must have had about 80 candidates apply in a week or so, and about 90% were community Pharmacist - in the end I gave it to a hospital pharm with prior MI experience. Excluding the junior roles, there are only two pharmacists in the whole of UK Medical Affairs in the company I work for, including me. The rest are Doctors or PhD.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

It's a little unfair to say 'Any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk into a community Pharmacist job without any experience' since that person will have spent five years of their lives learning pharmacy. You make it sound like you could drag anyone in off the street onto the dispensary bench. It's the same degree regardless of which sector you go into, and is industry then one of those ridiculous 'catch-22' jobs where you can't get the job without experience and you can't get the experience without the job?

I secured a 50K plus salary in community with no effort whatsoever - it was offered to me. I've just grown to hate pharmacy, that's all, and that's why I've given it up and will be leaving the sector altogether very soon.

R A, Community pharmacist

Just my opinion with the exception of medicine and dentistry where the hardest thing is getting into the course and passing the degree, most other jobs where people rise to the top is through a combination of hardwork and luck.

Obviously you need to be in a place where opportunity exists because you can't turn lead into gold unless your alchemist. Unfortunately its very difficult to build up a skill set in community pharmacy which you can argue that is relevant in other fields. Unless you are prepared to do it in your own time. This is even more of an issue if you work in a high volume pharmacy often its like being on a conveyor belt where you just check things continously for accuracy. That can't be good for the brain or help you develop your skills. Many people would argue that this job can be automated because a machine could do this more efficently and would be cost effective because it can potentially run 24/7. 

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Amazon will prove that the job will be automated once their licence is granted

R A, Community pharmacist

I actually told me colleagues that this was our future and they just laughed at me back in 2014.

When that happens almost all the support admin work will also disappear such as locum/shift coordinators, area managers, ACT, dispensers.

However the biggest current threat is remote supervision because multiples will make a case for operating a pharmacy without in store pharmacist vs closing the branch and leave deprived community with no access. 

I really feel sorry for the incoming pre-reg and those graduating what a miserable career they are heading to! At least when I finished uni 10 years ago the world was not as bleak as it is now. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I've been doing this for 30 years - it used to be a really good, even fun (I know - weird, huh?) job but since 2008 everything has gone totally pear shaped (I really wish it were possible to swear profusely on here but you can't) and pharmacy is dying the death of a thousand cuts. I can't for the life of me understand why schools of pharmacy are still full. What are they promising these students? I was promised a job for life and that proved totally untrue, so they can't use that one any more.

R A, Community pharmacist

I think the obvious answer is that the academic institutions are probably using pre-reg year as as employment track record. On the other hand if they used payscale and career progression most candidates would be running away. 

I completed my degree 10 years ago so I started in 2006 and I guess I was the last cohort who really had no way of knowing how bad things were going to turn out because things were going well. After all locum rates was pretty decent, work load straightforward, MCS rare and independent sector still formed a good chunk of the community pharmacy.  

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Yes, 2006 was about the last time pharmacy was any good. I was a locum earning £100 a DAY more than I am now, so you can see how badly wrong things have gone. You still have plenty of time left and I would genuinely urge you to try to find a way out of pharmacy altogether, not just community. It seems to me that we have gone from being respected to being irrelevant in the last 15 years or so and I can't see that changing, just getting worse once the coronavirus stuff is over and they look to where cuts and savings can be made. Pharmacy is a soft target because the only thing protecting us at the moment is the current pharmacy legislation and the RP regs which can be changed at the drop of a hat. If they decide dispensing no longer requires a pharmacist to supervise it, what do we have left? Services are a non-starter because they won't commision any new ones and the old ones will go the way of MUR (funny how that went from being a vital part of patient wellbeing to no longer necessary - I think that was the plan all along) so then we have no role which cannot be replaced by cheaper, less educated staff and we are extinct. I give it another 5-10 years then we are like the Passenger Pigeon.

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